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Latvala takes lead at Rally of New Zealand

Latvala takes lead at Rally of New Zealand

Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala seized a nine-second lead after day two of the Rally of New Zealand on Saturday as world championship rivals Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen prepared for a final-day showdown.
Latvala, a Ford teammate of Hirvonen, swept through the 32.36 kilometer final stage of the day _ the 13th and longest stage of the 18-stage rally _ to regain a lead he last held after stage one on Friday.
Hirvonen had led the rally by 27.8 seconds from Loeb after day one and held that lead through four of Saturday's six stages but finished ninth on the final stage to drop 9.3 seconds behind Latvala.
Loeb, who had gained the lead on the day's fifth stage, finished 10th on stage 13, some 26.5 seconds behind Latvala and 8.2 seconds behind Hirvonen and will now start the final day in third place, 13.3 seconds from the leader.
Day two interest centered on the battle for the rally lead between Loeb and Hirvonen, who are separated by only four points after 10 rounds of the world drivers' championship.
Loeb, driving for Citroen which holds an eight point lead over Ford in the manufacturers' championship, trailed Hirvonen after incurring a 30 second time penalty in the sixth stage on day one.
He was penalized for being three minutes late to the start line after apparently having trouble starting the engine of his Citroen C4. The delay may have been tactical, as the penalty meant Hirvonen was overnight leader and therefore the first car on the road for each of Saturday's stages.
Hirvonen was thereby forced to tackle the roads of New Zealand's Waikato district when their gravel coating was at its thickest and when gaining traction was most difficult.
Hirvonen conceded time to Loeb on each of Saturday's first four stages before the Frenchman and world championship leader snatched the overall lead after the 31.92 kilometer fifth stage.
Loeb said he wanted to end the day with a 20 second lead to counteract the disadvantage of having to sweep the roads for later drivers on the final day Sunday. When he realized he would not be able to obtain that margin, he shed time on the last stage of the day to give up the lead.
"I decided at the end to slow down," he said.
"It's the only way with these regulations." Latvala then stepped up to post the fastest time on the final stage and to take over the outright lead, meaning both Loeb and Hirvonen will have the benefit of better grip and similar conditions on Sunday.
The final day, which comprises five stages, is likely to be a tense one, with only 15.4 seconds between Latvala and Loeb's Citroen teammate Dani Sordo in fourth place.


Updated : 2021-10-21 01:27 GMT+08:00