WRC: Latvala returns to the top in Portugal


WRC returned to the north of Portugal and had massive crowds. It also saw Jari-Matti Latvala return to the top of the podium after a difficult start to 2015…





Jari-Matti Latvala ended a bleak sequence of results by holding off team-mate Sébastien Ogier to win Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday.

After failing to score in the previous three rounds, Latvala finished 8.2sec ahead of the FIA World Rally Championship leader in the four-day gravel event to claim his first victory since October last year.

Andreas Mikkelsen completed the podium a further 20.4sec behind to provide a clean sweep of the top three for Volkswagen Motorsport with its Polo R car.

“After the last three rallies some people were doubting if I would come back,” said Latvala. “It was one of the worst situations in my rally career so to come and win here is unique. I really appreciate this victory feeling.”

It was the 13th career win for the 30-year-old Finn, who benefited from a low start position and cleaner road conditions to take the lead on Friday afternoon and was never headed.

Ogier was unable to reel-in his team-mate and finished 8.2sec adrift

Despite overshooting a junction yesterday morning, he saw off challenges from firstly Kris Meeke and then Ogier to climb from ninth to fifth in the drivers’ championship.

Tyre choice and management played a crucial role in the first WRC round in the north of the country since 2001. Sandy roads hampered the early starters and exposed rocks offered further difficulties during the second pass of stages.

Ogier endured the worst conditions for the opening two legs, sweeping loose gravel from roads. However, he roared up the leaderboard from sixth to second yesterday, reducing his deficit from almost 26sec to less than eight as he threatened to snatch an unlikely victory.

Second was sufficient for Ogier to extend his championship lead to 42 points after round five of 13.

Mikkelsen led early on his debut in the 2015-specification Polo R and traded seconds with Kris Meeke in their battle for the final podium place. With the gap at 0.4sec, a broken anti-roll bar on Meeke’s DS 3 in the penultimate stage decided the outcome.



Reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah won the WRC 2 support category at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday to move second in the points table with two wins from two rallies.

Al-Attiyah, driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, headed Esapekka Lappi by 12.0sec, the Finn securing a podium finish for Skoda’s Fabia R5 on its WRC debut.

Team-mate Pontus Tidemand ensured further delight for the Czech manufacturer by driving another Fabia R5 into third, 25.8sec behind his colleague.

“This was a new rally for everybody and there was no experience advantage for any driver,” said Al-Attiyah. “We were really strong and showed that we’re fast and I’m so happy to win again.”

Frenchman Julien Maurin was fourth in another Fiesta RRC, almost three minutes off the lead. He moved ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre, who struggled with worn tyres this morning, and finished 17.3sec clear of his fellow countryman.

Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, winner of the previous round in Argentina, completed the top six.

The tough gravel roads of northern Portugal proved too much for many competitors and the event became one of attrition.

Frontrunners Karl Kruuda and Yazeed Al Rajhi both retired yesterday. Retirees today included championship leader Jari Ketomaa, who crashed heavily after a jump (below), Anders Grondal, Eric Camilli and Australian champion Scott Pedder.



Winner of the opening round in Monaco, Quentin Gilbert, added a second FIA Junior WRC win at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday.

The Frenchman took the lead of the category for under-28 year-olds on the opening day, and began the final leg with a 2m46s lead over his compatriot Pierre-Louis Loubet.

Gilbert used his advantage wisely, adopting a cautious approach where necessary over Sunday’s three stages to end the rally 3m40.6s ahead.

“We took it fairly steadily at the start of the race to get our bearings but once we were in front, we managed to hold position despite the difficulties of the road surface,” said Gilbert. “With two wins from two outings, it’s been a perfect start to the season.”

In only the second rally of his fledgling career, Loubet finished 1min27sec ahead of Finland’s Henri Haapamaki. “I’m really happy because I wasn’t expecting a result like this,” said Loubet. “It was very difficult to stay focused for the whole three days. It was important to make it to the end in terms of experience.”

Jean-Rene Perry was fourth, with early front-runner Ole Christian Veiby fifth having re-started after a roll on Saturday. Another re-starter, Simone Tempestini, was sixth, with Federico Della Casa seventh and Daniel McKenna eighth. Kornel Lukacs, Charlotte Dalmasso and Terry Folb completed the 11 finishers.