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Latvala wins Rally de France

October 5, 2014

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Jari-Matti Latvala claimed a maiden asphalt victory at the Rally de France on Sunday, reviving his challenge for the world title.

With two races remaining this season, the Finn cut his deficit to world champion Sebastien Ogier to 27 points in his Volkswagen Polo R after the Frenchman’s hopes of clinching a second straight title on home soil disappeared during the first stage because of mechanical problems.

Ogier, who entered the race with a 50-point lead over Latvala, lost nearly nine minutes on his rival when his engine cut out on Friday.

Latvala, who became the first Finn to win an asphalt race since Tommi Makinen at the Rally San Remo in 1999, finished 44.8 seconds ahead of his Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to win on asphalt and done a lot of work for that and now it has finally come,” Latvala said. “I’ve been able to take some big steps this year and this is one of the most important.”

Kris Meeke was third, 1:05.03 off the pace in his Citroen DS3.

Latvala took a cautious approach on Sunday after he missed out on a first asphalt win in August at the German Rally when he carried a lead into the final day but crashed.

“I was pretty nervous this morning after my mistake in Germany. I had to take that lesson and, without that experience, I wouldn’t have been able to be as strong today and have belief in myself,” Latvala said. He led the race for all but one of the 18 special stages.

Ogier won the final power special stage to take three bonus points and limit the damage in the world championships standings.

“Let’s wait and see what happens in the next race, we still have a joker to play,” Ogier said.

Ogier, who won his title at this race last year, has six wins for Volkswagen this season. He could have clinched the title by finishing six points ahead of Latvala but must now wait until the Rally of Spain from Oct. 23-26.

Robert Kubica missed out on the fourth spot after his Ford Fiesta spun into a ditch during the final test, with Dani Sordo securing the place ahead of Mikko Hirvonen.