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Four fastest times in France
6 October 2010 In Jari-Matti Latvala's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man reflects on Rallye de France, where he finished fourth and posted four quickest stage times.
I have mixed feelings with my result in Strasbourg. Prior to the event I had been after a top-five in my Ford Focus RS WRC and so with fourth I achieved my goal. However in the end I was ever so slightly disappointed because the podium was so, so close and Petter Solberg was just 12.5 seconds in front.
On the first day I struggled a bit in the opening two stages but after that I grew in confidence and eventually won four stages in total, which was very special. It definitely shows how far the team has come with the car on asphalt.
Indeed, I think I had the best feeling I have ever had with the Focus RS WRC on tarmac. It really was that good. If I look back over the three years I have been with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT I don't think I have ever felt that comfortable on asphalt, although of course my driving on the black stuff has also come on in leaps and bound this season.
I've mentioned this before – and I apologise for repeating it – but doing the Nurburgring 24 race back in the spring really has helped. I learned a lot there and I have been working to change my driving style on tarmac ever since. It is nice to see that really starting to pay dividends.
At the end of the opening day I was just ahead of Petter – thanks to the quickest time in the final stage. The battle then continued on days two and three and I really enjoyed it. It was a good fight, although a shame I ultimately lost out.
The crucial moment, in my view, came in the long stage on Saturday - Pays d'Ormont [35.48 km]. Petter was very, very strong both times through. My pace-notes just weren't good enough and that is what gave him the opportunity to get back in front.
I also had a bit of moment on the first run through Pays d'Ormont [SS11] when I went wide on some mud and hit a pile of logs. Luckily it didn't do too much damage but it was still a bit annoying.
We had a spin in the last stage on Saturday as well [Salm 2] and I had to reverse several times before I could get going. That cost me 10 seconds.
Then on the final day the second-run through Bitche Camp [SS19] - the long stage of the day - had to be cancelled due to spectator problems and so I didn't have the chance to try and really pressurise him. It was a shame, but there is no point thinking about ifs and buts.
Furthermore while my best overall result on asphalt remains the third I took in Ireland back in 2007, what was encouraging at the finish was not only my fastest stage times, but also the fact the gap to Sebastien Loeb – the winner - was the smallest I have ever managed on asphalt.
I'd like to have been a bit more consistent and sometimes I did a really good stage time and then on the next test I lost out to the top guys. But towards the end of the rally the consistency was coming.
Overall it was important I managed to set some fastest stage times because that gives us all confidence the work we have done with the car on asphalt has been successful. We have made progress and made the car go faster.
Looking back on the new-look Rallye de France it was a pretty good event. The number of spectators was sensational and it reminded me a lot of Rally Finland in that respect. People were all over the place and it was fantastic to see the passion in the Alsace region for the WRC.
The stages weren't bad either. Some were very nice with a lot of character and while there were a few small mistakes - and details that need to be improved - that is only normal for an event hosting a round of the WRC for the first time.
Overall when you saw how much interest there was it gave everybody a good feeling. Of course a lot of that support was for home star Sebastien Loeb and it was a great event for him. My congratulations go to him on taking his seventh WRC title. It is a great number and confirms him again as the best man in rallying history.
The championship is not over though, there is still two rounds to go and the fight for the vice-champions spot has still to be decided.
I am still in contention for second and while 22 points to Sebastien Ogier is a lot and means it is not going to be easy, I am not going to give up. If there is a chance you need to keep fighting and that is what I intend to do. I can't ignore Petter though, and he is a threat, 11 points adrift of me in P4.
My target pre-season was to finish in the top-three in the championship because the last two years I have been fourth and I really want to make sure I achieve that, so I will be going all out for it in Spain in three weeks time.
Rally de Espana will be a bit different this year as the first day will be driven on a mix of gravel and tarmac. That will make it a bit more challenging as you will have to adapt to different road surfaces. But it is not the first time this year we have had to do that because we faced the same thing in Turkey and New Zealand.
I have an idea how to approach it. Also from what I have heard the gravel base will be quite hard and that should be a plus too.
In the past I never use to go that well on the stages on the Friday in Spain either. There were always a lot of cuts and I always struggled a bit. Those roads won't be there this year now and I can't say I will mind.
Saturday and Sunday meanwhile is more similar to how it has been before and I always felt more confident on those roads anyway.
I have a good feeling going to Catalunya after going so well in France and Germany. I have been fourth two-times in a row on tarmac and now I think I have to set the target higher. I really hope to fight for a podium.
Before that though, we have two tests coming up, one day with the Focus on tarmac – a pre-event test for Spain - and one day with the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC on gravel.
Ford unveiled the new Fiesta at the Paris Motor Show prior to Rallye de France and I have to say it just looks fantastic. It is the best looking rally car I have ever seen. I'm really looking forward to driving it for the first time and if it drives half as good as it looks we are on to a winner.Jari-Matti Latvala