BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished second in the FIA World Rally Championship by claiming a podium in Rally GB today. Third in the 13th and final round of the series was sufficient to claim the runners-up place, and ensured the career of the record-breaking Ford Focus RS World Rally Car ended on a high note in its final WRC appearance.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were fourth in another Focus RS WRC after three days of demanding competition in the forests of mid- and south Wales. Hirvonen finished sixth in the drivers' standings, while the BP Ford Abu Dhabi squad secured second in the manufacturers' table earlier in the season.
Latvala's podium means the Focus RS WRC bows out of competition after 12 years with 44 world rally wins and 99 other podiums. The car has finished in the points for a remarkable 132 consecutive rallies, dating back to the opening round of the 2002 season. It is a record that the all-new Fiesta RS WRC will aim to extend for Ford in 2011, as a new formula for WRC heralds the start of a new era.
Gales that neared 100kph and torrential rain ensured the four-day rally lived up to its reputation as one of the most difficult in the championship. The gravel forest tracks, over which the bulk of the 344.96km of white-knuckle competition was held, were treacherously muddy, with standing water causing additional problems on Friday's first leg.
However, 25-year-old Latvala made light of the conditions to lead for most of the opening leg until a misted windscreen caused him to hit a bank and puncture a tyre in the final speed test. He lost more than a minute to slip to sixth. The Finn bounced back quickly on the second leg to climb to fourth and following the retirement of Sébastien Ogier, the battle for the runners-up place became a straight duel between Latvala and Petter Solberg.
Latvala needed a podium to secure his best-ever WRC championship finish and he climbed into third in the penultimate special stage in Resolfen to also claim his sixth podium of the season. "This is a really big day for me and it feels fantastic. My target at the start of the season was to finish in the top three in the championship, so second is amazing. I won two rallies this year and I never imagined that would happen as I was the second driver in the team," he said.
"I had a self-inflicted puncture on Friday and that cost me the rally win, but that was my mistake. I was quite depressed after that, but the whole team encouraged me. I had doubts, but they didn't. Miikka and I worked so hard this year but I also want to thank Mikko for helping and encouraging me. The car showed its strength this weekend, so I must also thank my Focus too!" added Latvala.
Hirvonen ended an inconsistent opening leg in fourth, but the 30-year-old Finn was happier with his driving yesterday as he climbed to third. However, Latvala was closing all the time and the pair started the final leg separated by just 8,6sec. Hirvonen eventually finished 18.0sec behind him.
"I had good, consistent speed both yesterday and today and that boosted my confidence," said Hirvonen. "I've experienced the best moments of my career in the Focus RS WRC and I must admit that I felt emotional at the end of the last stage today, knowing that I won't drive the car again. Having said that, I can't wait to get my hands on the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC next year. This was a tough season and now I'm ready to work hard to try to get into the title fight again in 2011. Next year will be exciting with the new cars, and I can't wait."
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 11th in the team's third car.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson paid tribute to Latvala's progress during the 2010 season. "He has increasingly matured as a driver and the ability to find the consistency that he lacked previously was the key factor in finishing runner-up. We took the pressure off by making him our number two driver and that helped his development. He did a thoroughly professional job all season. Mikko ended a difficult year on a high and that will boost his confidence for 2011," he said.
Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "It was a hugely challenging season for the team against tough competition. While runners-up position in the drivers' championship was a great reward for Jari-Matti's consistency, we're here to win and next season we will set our sights on regaining the manufacturers' title. It's emotional to reach the end of an era with the Focus, the car that won back-to-back world titles for Ford but I'm excited at the prospect of seeing the Fiesta RS WRC in competition."