In Jari-Matti Latvala's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man reflects on Rally Japan, where he was again battling it out at the front and in contention for a victory.
I claimed my fifth podium of the season in Japan in my Ford Focus RS WRC car and before the rally I said, if I can get a top-three, I will be happy. However, I was a little bit disappointed at the finish because I was fighting for the win on day two and it was all looking good until we had mechanical problems.
At the end of the first leg I was fourth and right in the thick of it. Then on Saturday I took the lead in the morning and the repeat loop in the afternoon started great. I was in the lead and 2.6 seconds ahead after SS14.
Then on the long stage, SS15, we started to pull out a bit of a cushion and at one point we were about six seconds ahead of eventual winner, Sebastien Ogier, until one of the driveshafts failed. The long stage was about 33 kilometres long and the driveshaft problem started 5 kilometres from the end. We lost about 10 seconds in those last 5 kilometres. Then I had to do one forest stage, SS16, which was 10 kilometres and two super special stages, which were very technical, and I lost over half a minute.
Without that we would definitely have been fighting to repeat what I did in Finland and New Zealand. It is difficult to say if I would have won though because the situation would have been different. However, given how it went on the Sunday and how I felt in the long stage, then I think we would have had a strong possibility to win.
That's life though, sometimes it can be hard and to still take third, having dropped down to fifth, was nice. Indeed in the end I was surprised and very happy to finish on the podium. It was good for Miikka [Anttila – my co-driver] too. It was his 100th WRC start and he also had his 38th birthday on the Friday, so that was a nice way to celebrate both of those things.
However, I have to spare a thought for Mikko [Hirvonen – my team-mate]. He was looking good going into day three and it was a shame for him to have that hydraulic problem, which dropped him down to sixth.
Overall though as a team we were very happy that both cars had good performance and that we were right on the pace. That gives us good confidence and on the last gravel rally in Wales we should be strong.
We have come a long way with the Focus RS WRC in recent months and we did a lot of work over the summer. The car is now on the same level with the Citroen and I am really pleased with that. The only difference is on tarmac. It is a little bit more difficult then. But we have done improvements on asphalt too and we still have a few ideas left that we want to try. I really hope we can be closer on tarmac.