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Latvala realistic about Swedish defence

3 February 2013

Rally Sweden might be Jari-Matti Latvala's most successful event in WRC, but the Finn is being realistic as he returns to the snowy landscapes around Hagfors and Karlstad in 2013, having changed teams from Ford to Volkswagen since winning last year's event.

“I really like the Rally Sweden," said Latvala, who also claimed his very first WRC race win here back in 2008. "There is nothing to criticise about the event – with one exception. It can get very cold!"

He's not kidding, with temperatures often plummeting as low as 20 or 30 degrees below zero at this time of year. But snow and ice won't stop the WRC: the only time that the race has been cancelled for poor weather in the past was in 1990, and then the specific reason was that it was too mild and there was too little snow to hold the race.

This year's event will be the 60th running of Rally Sweden, with the first being held back in 1950. Other than the mild 1990, the only other years that the event has not been staged were 1974 (due to the world fuel crisis) and 2009 when the FIA rotation system bumped it off that season's calendar.

Despite it being a uniquely gruelling event - it's the only race of the season that relies on the studded extreme snow tyres to make racing possible - it remains one of the most popular events among hardy fans and the drivers themselves.

"I have fond memories of the Rally Sweden, such as my very first WRC victory in 2008 and, of course, my win there last year," Latvala said. "The event requires a very quick and flowing driving style on Swedish forest roads."

It's a race that plays to the skills of native Nordic drivers, and indeed the only non-Nordic crew to win the event in its history was the pairing of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena back in 2004; and then only "because the other guys ran into problems," according to Loeb, who is returning for one last attempt to win the race again next weekend.

But while Latvala's successful track record in Rally Sweden might suggest he's one of the favourites to win again this year, the driver himself is aware that a change of teams from Ford to Volkswagen over the winter leaves him with a lot of ground to make up in 2013 before he's back on the form he enjoyed last season.

"Up to now I have driven 500 kilometres on snow in the Polo R WRC," he said, adding: "We will slot in another test day on snow before the Rally Sweden."

He acknowledged that this wasn't nearly enough to give him the complete feeling for snow that he would need to put himself into contention for an outright win. "My goal for this season is to finish in the top five," he said.

But Latvala is cheered by how well his new Polo is performing so far even this early on, and is happy too with his new situation at Volkswagen overall. "The car works very well in these conditions, I am already very happy with the way it feels to drive," he said.

Latvala and his co-driver Miikka Anttila will be joined in Rally Sweden next weekend by the second Volkswagen in the more-than capable hands of Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia.


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