Latvala wins Rally NZ qualifier
Thu, 21 Jun 2012 6:44p.m.
By Shaun Summerfield
Finn Jari-Matti Latvala has started where he left off two years ago - winning today’s qualifying for Rally New Zealand.
The Ford driver is the defending champ down-under.
This is a first time qualifying has featured in New Zealand - it has been introduced to stop drivers slowing down during the early stages of the rally as they try to avoid being first on the gravel, a position known as ‘road sweeper’.
“I think it is good to have a qualification for the grid position, because there are a lot of rallies where, when you are leading the championship, you have to go first,” says Citroen driver Sebastian Loeb.
But the eight-time world champ wasn't top of the times today, that honour went to Ford’s Latvala who edged compatriot and former Ford team mate Mikko Hirvonen by half a second over the 5km stage near Helensville.
Hirvonen at least earned rare bragging rights in the Citroen garage - with Loeb only managing the fourth quickest time, just behind former world champ Petter Solberg.
The move to smaller cars is not the only change to the WRC's look. This year’s event features a record three female drivers – including Kiwi front runner Emma Gilmour who got in some last minute practice at rally headquarters.
“The more females that take part, it’s good role models for other females to get involved in the sport, hopefully it is growing and we can see more females competing,” says Gilmour.
But going into tomorrow’s stages around Raglan - it's Latavlla who's in pole position and looking to repeat his win in 2010.
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