Pirelli Scorpion Tyres Power Latvala to Italian Victory
Olbia, May 24, 2009 - Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala has put the brakes on Sebastien Loeb's domination of the 2009 World Rally Championship season to claim his first win of the year, on the all-gravel Rally d'Italia-Sardegna: Pirelli's home event.
Latvala led from start to finish, despite the handicap of being first on the road throughout Saturday and Sunday with the unenviable task sweeping it clean for all his rivals. His Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was second ahead of Solberg in third and Loeb in fourth, who maintains a comfortable lead of the drivers' World Rally Championship. Loeb's Citroen team has also kept the lead of the World Rally Championship for manufacturers.
Conditions on the Rally d'Italia, based in the Sardinian city of Olbia, were dry and warm during all three days of the event with temperatures frequently exceeding 30 degrees Centigrade. As usual the roads provided a formidable challenge, with a surface layer of loose and dusty gravel covering a hard base with sharp rocks. The hard-compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres used on this event - of a similar type to those that will also be nominated for the next round in Greece - stood up durably to the challenge of Sardinia well, contributing to a thrilling battle for supremacy between the two Ford team mates.
Latvala, who became the youngest man to win a round of the World Rally Championship in Sweden last year, said: "It's been an amazing three days with some really difficult conditions and big rocks, but we've had no problems with the tyres whatsoever. Being first on the road was a tricky task, but we were able to overcome that and bring home a great result for the team."
Pirelli's home event was also the second rally of the Pirelli Star Driver programme: a unique initiative to give five drivers from FIA regional championships all over the world the chance to compete on six rounds of the World Rally Championship in identical Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X Group N cars. On an event that gave all six youngsters some extremely valuable experience of rough gravel, up-and-coming Finn Jarkko Nikara emerged best-placed of the Pirelli Star Drivers.
Not only that but Sardinia - just like the previous WRC event in Argentina - was also a round of the Junior World Rally Championship and Production Car World Rally Championship, both of which are supplied by Pirelli as part of the Italian manufacturers' three-year contract with the FIA.
Swedish driver Patrik Sandell claimed his third win of the year in the Production Car category, at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia S2000, while Citroen C2 Super 1600 driver Martin Prokop collected the laurels in the Junior series.
Pirelli's Rally Manager Mario Isola concluded: "We faced conditions in Sardinia that were even tougher than usual, with several crews being forced out with suspension and damper problems as a result of the constant punishment from the stages. Nonetheless, neither of the leading duo encountered the slightest problem with punctures during the rally, enabling them to start the final day separated by less than 10 seconds. Even Loeb's much publicized puncture was not a puncture but the outcome of his Citroen hitting a tree and damaging the tyre valve. These very rough conditions also taught our five Star Drivers how to blend consistency with their obvious speed, which will serve them well in the future."