Two times 59 kilometers equals plenty of room for things to go wrong, and they did for Jari-Matti Latvala. Nobody is immune to this sort of thing, least of all those who are fighting for the top positions overall, but today we got to see just how painful and expensive a single mistake can be. Both Latvala and Ogier were given a green light in their duel, and they were serious about it. Heading into final stage of the day Latvala had 12.3 seconds lead over Ogier, but it all went wrong on the second run through Monte Lerno special stage, also known as “yo mamma is so big it takes 80 pages of pacenotes to get around her”. Latvala was not very philosophical about it at the end of SS 13 and he admitted making a mistake straight away. Rear end of the car left the ruts and hopped, leaving the road and hitting a rock hard enough to damage a wheel. Crew then had to change the wheel, and that’s what pushed them down the order, to third overall, 21.3 seconds (notice the same numbers as in 12.3?) behind Mads Ostberg.
Robert Kubica also made a mistake today and he also had to pay the price by retiring on the penultimate stage of the day. As far as I know he should be able to continue tomorrow, with time penalty given for the stage which he missed. Interestingly, before he retired, he set some strong split times so I wonder if he was simply trying maybe too hard at some point. Even though it means very little now, Kubica was once again comfortably faster than more experienced drivers in, more or less, equal machinery, which still remains a mystery to me. But on the other hand, until he lines up at least three incident-free events in a row, the raw pace will mean very little.
So “what’s cooking on the big board” for tomorrow? Couple of things, hopefully, despite the fact that tomorrow’s stages are very short compared to the ones crews had to tackle today. Jari-Matti Latvala is surely considering an all out attack on Mads Ostberg – after all, 21 seconds does not sound impossible, but it would also force Latvala to go very close to the limit and maybe even over it. On the other hand, it looks like this season is really going to be about every single point and Latvala is probably going to at least try and put some pressure on Mads. Then there is also that damn power stage with its bonus points, a gamble in itself. After Kubica’s demise, fifth place went to only remaining M-Sport driver, Elfyn Evans.
All in all, we are still waiting for other teams to close the gap to Volkswagen and challenge them in an open battle. If it weren’t for Jari-Matti’s mistake, two leading Volkswagen crews would again be miles ahead of the nearest rivals. Even though they’re not storming the podium with 1-2-3 finishes on every event, Volkswagen Motorsport is still one step ahead of other teams, at least.