Not even a topsy-turvy season has diluted the widespread belief that Jari-Matti Latvala, the World Rally Championship's youngest-ever rally winner, is a world champion-in-waiting.
Latvala has important role to play
KINSCLIFF, NSW // Not even a topsy-turvy season has diluted the widespread belief that Jari-Matti Latvala, the World Rally Championship's youngest-ever rally winner, is a world champion-in-waiting. However, his predicted destiny to mature into a leading WRC force aside, the 23-year old Finn - criticised in some quarters for failing to marry abundant natural speed with point-scoring finishes - knows his role in Rally Australia, which starts tomorrow, is one of supporting act.
With teammate Mikko Hirvonen leading five-time world champion Sebastien Loeb by three points with the same number of rounds remaining, BP Ford Abu Dhabi director Malcolm Wilson has challenged Latvala to produce a performance which both protects Hirvonen's drivers' push and aid the team's manufacturers' bid. "My role is to support Mikko and win manufacturers' points," said Latvala. "A top three finish would be nice - that's the goal - but I have to try and help Mikko in the championship points."
Australia is vital as Citroen's Loeb and Dani Sordo are widely expected to be dominant in the 12-event WRC season's penultimate round in Spain next month. "It would be nice for us to finish ahead of the Citroens so we can keep the fight alive for the manufacturers' championship going into Spain," said Latvala. "I feel this rally will suit me and Mikko, and our car. I feel confident." The Ford drivers are right to feel assured. Australia's 35 competitive stages are remarkably similar in speed and terrain to July's Rally Finland, where Hirvonen romped to victory and Latvala finished third.
"Australia will be a fast rally - 80 per cent is really quick and 20 per cent is slow, more technical," said Latvala. "It's good to come to another fast rally after Finland, but we have a little bit of work to find the right balance with the cars. The fast and slow sections are mixed, they are in different stages, but they run in between services, so that's a challenge."