Two punctures and a podium
9 March 2011
In Jari-Matti Latvala's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man reflects on the second round in Mexico, where he was once again on the podium, despite suffering two punctures, one of which cost him more than two minutes.
At the end of Rally Mexico I was more than satisfied with third in my Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car because normally it is not possible to do that - especially if you have two punctures and have to stop in an actual stage and change the tyre, as I did in SS4 on the opening day.
That was a frustrating start. I had opted to go quite cautiously in the first stage on the Friday and then the next one went well and I was third fastest. It looked promising and I thought: 'This could be a really good rally for me'.
However in El Cubilete 1 [SS4], we had only done 4 or 5 kilometres, and I started to feel that the tyre was going down. We still had 13 kilometres to go and as we had so much of the stage left, we had no option but to stop and change it.
We did it in a very good location, in a safe place, on a long, long straight. We were struggling a bit with the seatbelts and I struggled getting the punctured tyre in the car. It was halfway off the rim and it was tough to get it in the boot. We lost some time with that.
But we still did it in just over two minutes and while we dropped from fourth to ninth, we were back up in fourth at the end of the opening leg after some of my rivals also had problems.
On day two I wanted to push a bit harder, but 5 kilometres before the end of SS11 - the very first test of the day - I felt the same thing happen as on the Friday. The tyre was slowly going down and we had another slow puncture.
Luckily this time we didn't have that far to go and I tried to keep going as quickly as possible. About 1 kilometre from the end the tyre was pretty much completely deflated and I had to drive very slowly to the finish. But we only lost just over 20 seconds.
Like on Friday though, I didn't hit anything. What we think now after the rally is that both of those punctures were not because of impacts with any rocks. It was more the impact with the compression places.
There are many compression zones in Mexico and I believe those compressions caused the punctures.
It was all pretty annoying and an issue with the gearbox didn't help much either. I had a bit of an unlucky situation on the Friday evening. I was coming back to the service park from the super specials and there was a lot of traffic. We had to use a special lane to go around it and to get back to the service park in the allocated time. I forgot we had set the car low for the super specials and on the road section I went over some concrete stones by accident and hit the sump guard, which in turn pushed on the gearbox. As a result a release spring broke, which left me with problems downshifting on the opening loop on day two.
It wasn't a big issue. It just meant the gear lever didn't come back to its normal position. I then had to concentrate more on changing the gears than the driving. It was all a bit of a distraction.
It wasn't until the afternoon on day two then that I felt things really started to click. Before the rally I didn't really know what to expect because I didn't know exactly how the car would handle. We have been testing a lot, but we had only had two days on dry gravel.
Then when I started I couldn't keep the car in the lines that was made by the other front runners. When I realised this and realised I was not following the same lines as the other cars, I really started to concentrate on that and the times started to immediately improve.
With these cars, with the less powerful engines, and especially in Mexico, which is a high altitude rally, you really need to concentrate and keep the car in a straight line. The more you go sideways, the more you lose time, as you don't have the power to get the car straight again. Once I got that right I could really match the Citroen's and topped the times in Derramadero 2 [SS17].
Still at that point it didn't look like I would do any better than fourth as the gaps in front were now just too big.
Then on Sunday morning, Sebastien Ogier went out after making an error in SS20. That was definitely a surprise.
But, as I know myself, when you are fighting you always have to take risks and sometimes things happen. It is part of rallying.
In the end I was very lucky then to climb up to the podium. I was pleased with third position, although a little bit disappointed to only be fourth fastest in the Power Stage and to lose out to Petter [Solberg] and Loeb by just 0.4 seconds. It would have been nice to get an extra point or two. Still you can't have it all.
Overall it was a good weekend for Ford. Our target is to win the manufacturers' championship and it will just be a big, big bonus if either Mikko [Hirvonen – my team-mate] or I can win the drivers' title. But the manufacturers' is the most important thing and we managed to extend our lead over Citroen, so that was very positive, even if it is still early days.
I also think when you look at our speed on the Saturday afternoon it bodes well. Initially we didn't have the confidence to push in the Fiesta RS WRC, but once we did we showed it is very close to the DS3.
Now we go to Portugal at the end of the month. For me Rally de Portugal is probably the most difficult gravel rally in the championship. It has a lot of blind crests, lots of narrow sections and very often at the exit of the corners you have a tree stump - or stumps - and stones. You can't afford to go wide. Those things have caused me problems and the last two years I have retired with an accident - most of you will probably remember that one from 2009!
Hopefully I can enjoy the rally a bit more this year though. I will need to concentrate a lot during the recce and make sure we do really good pace-notes. Hopefully then the rally will go well. Fingers crossed it will be a case of third time lucky.
You get a lot of spectators in Portugal. It is not like it was in the old days there, before it moved to the Algarve. You use to have massive crowds in the stages, but that wouldn't be allowed now. It just wouldn't be considered safe. But the feeling itself and the atmosphere is still very good. The Portuguese are very enthusiastic about rallying.
We have a pre-event test for that event coming up. Testing is planned for the previous week before the rally. The team will run for five days in total. Mikko will drive three days and I will drive two. We will be focusing on the suspension to improve the traction and we also want to try some things with the differential settings.
My confidence took a bit of a knock after I rolled in the test before Mexico (just like I did in the pre-Sweden test) and while it is back now, after finishing third last weekend, I certainly don't want to repeat that.
I'm going to Portugal looking to try and enjoy the event this year and I have set myself a target of finishing in the top-five. It would be nice to get through all three-days too.