Latvala sets pace in Rally NZ
Jari-Matti Latvala (File)
Auckland - Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala clocked the fastest time in qualifying for the Rally New Zealand on Thursday, as eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb had to settle for fourth.
Latvala, who won in New Zealand in 2010, qualified with a time of two minutes 31.86 seconds in his Ford Fiesta, 0.37 seconds ahead of compatriot Mikko Hirvonen.
The result means Latvala can choose his starting position on the first full day of racing on Friday in round seven of the World Rally Championship.
"More than half the competitive distance is on the first day so the start position here makes a big difference," he said.
"I really tried hard to take the fastest time and this now gives me the perfect position from which to choose where I want to start."
Loeb, the eight-time defending world champion and bookies' favourite for the New Zealand race, was unfazed at the result on a track he described as "tricky", with less grip than he expected.
"There's more water on the gravel and it's a little bit muddy in some places but I didn't make any mistakes so I tried to push. It's not so bad," said the Frenchman, has won Rally New Zealand in 2005 and 2008.Results after Thursday's qualifying stage for the Rally New Zealand:
1. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN/Ford Fiesta RS) 2min 31.86 sec
2. Mikko Hirvonen (FIN/Citroen DS3) 2:32.23
3. Petter Solberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) 2:32.40
4. Sebastien Loeb (FRA/Citröen DS3) 2:32.75
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL/Citroen DS3) 2:32.95
6. Ott Tanak (EST/Ford Fiesta RS) 2:33.13