Latvala wins in Sweden despite puncture
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala overcame a late puncture to win the Rally of Sweden on Sunday and make amends for crashing out of the Monte Carlo season-opener on the first day.
The 26-year-old Finn beat compatriot and former teammate Mikko Hirvonen, now with Citroen, by 16.6 seconds while eight-times world champion Sebastien Loeb finished a distant sixth.
Loeb, winner in Monte Carlo, saw his hopes vanish when he hit a snow bank on the opening day but the Frenchman retained the championship lead by winning the power stage for three extra points.
Loeb now has 39 points to Hirvonen's 32 and Norwegian Petter Solberg's 29. Latvala has 26.
Latvala had to overcome a late scare when he hit an exposed rock and punctured the front right tyre on the 22nd stage, two from the end, in a setback that slashed his lead from more than half a minute to eight seconds and cranked up the pressure.
"It is amazing. Four years ago I won this rally and now I got it again," Latvala, who was able to reassert himself and rebuild his lead while Hirvonen struggled on worn tyres, told the wrc.com website.
"The first time I won this rally I became the youngest ever winner of a world championship rally and beat my hero Henri Toivonen's record. It's fantastic to win it again," added the Finn.
Solberg, Latvala's 37-year-old teammate, hit the same rock on the same 22nd stage and lost third place to compatriot Mads Ostberg, also in a Ford.
"We got a lot of pressure after Monte and I felt the pressure coming to this event. This has taken a lot of pressure out of the coming events," said Latvala. "I think we're really going to challenge Citroen. We're working very hard."
The victory was Ford's sixth in a row on the snowy Swedish roads, and their cars filled four of the top five places at the ceremonial finish in Karlstad.
1. Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) Ford 3:18:28.300
2. Mikko Hirvonen (Finland) Citroen +00:16.600
3. Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford 00:38.800
4. Petter Solberg (Norway) Ford 01:14.300
5. Evgeny Novikov (Russia) Ford 02:41.400
6. Sebastien Loeb (France) Citroen 02:55.100
7. Henning Solberg (Norway) Ford 03:49.500
8. Patrik Sandell (Sweden) Mini 05:08.900
9. Martin Prokop (Czech Republic) Ford 05:30.000
10. Eyvind Brynildsen (Norway) Ford 06:27.200