The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver fulfills a childhood dream by winning his home event, the Rally Finland, for the first time.
Home delight for Latvala
Jari-Matti Latvala fulfilled a childhood dream yesterday as he won his home event, the Rally Finland, for the first time. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver triumphed after holding off a determined pursuit from Sebastien Ogier, the promoted Citroen works star, to become the youngest driver to win the Nordic event since it joined the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 1973.
In breaking Markku Alen's record as the youngest winner of the high-speed gravel event, Latvala, 25, who led from Friday's sixth stage, recorded a second victory in eight WRC starts this year. Latvala's fourth career victory follows his win at the Rally New Zealand in May and elevates him to third in the drivers' standings, 13 points behind Ogier but 61 behind six-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who finished third.
"It's a dream and I can't even imagine it yet," Latvala told WRC.com. "It's something I've been dreaming of since I was a small boy. The fans in Finland are fantastic and I've won in front of my home spectators. "When we did the second-last stage it started to go in the right direction and we were a little on the safe side. "It's amazing, a big relief and a fantastic rally. Our team has done really hard work and this victory is for the team."
In what was his first event with the leading Citroen squad, Ogier finished 10.1secs behind Latvala in only his third attempt at the event. The Frenchman was more than satisfied to climb the podium. "It's a fantastic weekend for me to finish second and better than expected, for sure," Ogier said. "Jari-Matti was incredibly fast but it's the perfect result for me." Loeb, 15.9secs further back, did his bid for a seventh world title no harm after successfully passing and holding off Citroen privateer Petter Solberg during a tense final-day battle.
After navigating the opening leg in the difficult position of first car on the road, Loeb recovered yesterday to finish a close 4.7secs ahead of Norway's Solberg - the 2003 world champion. "Third place is not what we prefer but I did not come here especially for the win," Loeb said. "It's not my rally; it's difficult for me. Third place for the championship is not so bad." Having been forced to fourth place in the drivers' standings after Latvala's victory, a realistic Solberg refused to be downbeat.
"I tried very hard but factory teams are factory teams," he said. "We have been fast but we're a small rally team doing the best we can." Citroen has stretched its manufacturers' standings lead over Ford to 55 points ahead of Rally Germany, round nine of the 13-event championship, which starts in three weeks. * Compiled by Euan Megson with agencies