x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Latvala receives backing

The BP Abu Dhabi Ford team director is supporting the Finnish rally driver despite his embarrassing crash on the final stage in Poland.

Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, left, and co-driver Miikka Anttila, inspect the damage to their Ford Focus RS WR car following their costly crash in the final stage of the Rally Poland on Sunday.
Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala, left, and co-driver Miikka Anttila, inspect the damage to their Ford Focus RS WR car following their costly crash in the final stage of the Rally Poland on Sunday.

ABU DHABI // Malcolm Wilson, the team director, has confirmed that BP Abu Dhabi Ford are standing by race driver Jari-Matti Latvala despite his embarrassing crash on the final stage in Poland that cost them a one-two finish and made a significant dent to their hopes of winning the constructors' title. Latvala, 23, had been on course to finish behind his teammate Mikko Hirvonen after surviving three days of tough stages on the Polish gravel.

But, unbelievably, with less than 600m left of the event, during the climatic Super Stage in Jikolajki, and with all of the Ford team there to cheer their two drivers home, Latvala misjudged a turn, hit the barrier and wrecked his suspension. In front of an incredulous Wilson and the rest of the team, Latvala desperately tried to continue, even resorting to pushing his car, but it was all in vain as he had to retire.

Despite his public humiliation and the fact that he has damaged his team's constructors' title hopes, Latvala still has a future with the team and will race in the next event in Finland next month, according to Wilson, Ford's team director. "Jari-Matti's drive was perfect, until the last 600m," he said. "But he's done extremely well in the last few rallies and he will definitely be in a BP Ford Abu Dhabi car in Finland."

Latvala has endured a frustrating year, with an impressive win in Sardinia compromised by costly crashes in Ireland and Portugal, and other small mistakes. But the blunder in Poland was a new low and Wilson acknowledges he "can't remember anyone making as big a mistake". "I've never witnessed anything like it. "It was made worse because the whole team were there waiting to celebrate and it almost didn't register for a split second; it seemed inconceivable that it could happen.

"It obviously put a real dampener on Mikko's result." Hirvonen now leads the championship by a point following his victory, coupled with title rival Sebastien Loeb only finishing seventh in his Citroen. Wilson was full of praise for his No 1 driver. "That was the first time Mikko has won two consecutive rallies in his career - it was an amazing drive, perfect from start to finish," said Wilson. "We have more chance with the drivers' title now."

Hirvonen has turned around a 20-point deficit in the last three rallies to now leads Loeb, the five-time world champion. Wilson is expecting a titanic tussle for the title, but is intrigued by Loeb's surprising loss in form. "If you look at Loeb's whole career then he has to be favourite, but his mistakes seem to come in new rallies or on new stages. I believe we have a good chance because 30 per cent of Finland is new stages and after that's it's Australia.

"I expect Loeb to dominate in Spain and I honestly think the championship will go right down to the wire again, right up to the last stage of Rally Great Britain. We're back and we're ready." As for the constructors' race, Ford face an uphill task now. If Latvala had finished in Poland instead of pranging his car they would only trail Citroen by three points, but instead they are 17 points adrift with four rounds remaining.

"It's difficult and probably out of reach, but three rallies ago we had no chance and we were so near to closing right up in Poland," said Wilson. "We won't give up, we've fought back from bigger gaps before." emegson@thenational.ae