x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Latvala justifies Ford's faith

Five weeks can be a long time in any sport and it has proved to be that way for Jari-Matti Latvala as he has gone from the worst point in his career to one of the highest in that time.

Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala set himself a minimum target of finishing in the top four at the Rally of Finland. He  ended up third, his best finish on his home event.
Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala set himself a minimum target of finishing in the top four at the Rally of Finland. He ended up third, his best finish on his home event.

JYVASKYLA // Five weeks can be a long time in any sport and it has proved to be that way for Jari-Matti Latvala as he has gone from the worst point in his career to one of the highest in that time. At the end of June the Finn was at his lowest ebb after the special stage that concluded Rally Poland. A humiliating crash saw him throw away the second place and the chance for his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team to claim a third successive one-two finish.

Despite claiming a superb victory in Sardinia back in May, it has been an inconsistent season for the Finn, great performances and stage times followed up by costly mistakes. But Latvala bounced back from his Polish disaster with a mature drive to third place in the Rally Finland - his best result in his home event - and he believes that he has become a better driver as a consequence of learning from his crashes.

"I think I have grown up mentally in the last few weeks," he said. "I spent a lot of time thinking between Poland and coming here, and I changed my preparations and approach for the rally and was more tactical in my approach, taking it carefully on the first day. "It was very important for myself and the team to get a good result and I was able to do it." Some pressure on Latvala had been removed in midweek with the announcement he had been retained by BP Ford Abu Dhabi for the next two seasons, but he was desperate to repay his team's faith and that of team director Malcolm Wilson with a strong result.

"Fourth would have been an OK result, but I knew the team were hoping for a top three finish and I didn't want to let them down and I am glad I achieved the target," he said. Wilson, himself, acknowledged that Latvala had been under the microscope following his crash in the previous round, but had been more than impressed with how his driver had handled the situation. "There was no other driver under as much pressure as Jari-Matti going into this rally," he said.

"But he dealt with it well all weekend and delivered a fantastic drive and hopefully he can continue his progress from here." While his teammate Mikko Hirvonen took the main plaudits with the victory, Latvala was more than happy with his weekend's work, which he hopes will set him up for a strong end to the season. It had not been an easy event for him as food poisoning had left him feeling low on the Saturday, but once he felt well again he was the fastest man for much of the rest of the rally as he usurped Dani Sordo's Citroen for third.

"It was tough when I was not feeling well," he said. "But once I felt good I was able to really push and I think you could see that in my stage times. I was enjoying driving those stages and I was thinking 'I can still do this'. "Third place here on my home rally is very special and it will give me a lot of confidence to push on for the final rallies of the season." gcaygill@thenational.ae