BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala was delighted following his victory on Rally New Zealand today, the fifth round in the 2010 World Rally Championship, and has branded it his best yet.
Latvala eventually took the spoils by just 2.4 seconds in his Ford Focus RS World Rally car - the third closest WRC finish ever, after a dramatic end to the three-day event.
Going into the last stage, the 25-year-old was only 6.2 seconds off P1, but four drivers started it with a chance of victory. Petter Solberg was the first to fall by the wayside when he crashed into a telegraph pole and then Sebastien Loeb spun, for the second time in the test, less than 10km from the finish.
Remarkably leader Sebastien Ogier also went off the road, just three corners from the end, and amid all the drama, the consistent Latvala kept calm to power to a fairytale victory.
The win is Latvala's third at this level and comes almost twelve months since his last victory in Italy. It moves him up to second in the race for the 2010 WRC drivers' title – and the result was also very significant for Ford as the 'Blue Oval' now becomes the most successful manufacturer in the history of the WRC with 75 wins.
"I didn't think it could happen, it's the most amazing and beautiful win," said Latvala. "Whaanga Coast showed its teeth. I neared the end of the stage and could see a car's bumper on the road but I didn't know which car it was from. I didn't know we had won until three minutes after the finish of the stage and Miikka [Anttila - my co-driver] did the calculations. It's my best win and makes up for my disappointments.
"I can't believe I'm second in the championship. I wasn't the fastest here but I was the most consistent and that paid off when it mattered. I need to carry on doing the job I'm doing as second driver because my strategy is working. It was a fantastic rally over the most beautiful roads in the world."
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team boss Malcolm Wilson was impressed with Latvala and praised the Finn for his maturity.
"This sport has a habit of producing the unexpected. The last three days have been full-on excitement and the drama we witnessed takes some believing. Jari-Matti displayed great maturity. We worked hard with him after last season to develop greater consistency and maturity, and he showed how far he has progressed," Wilson added.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile finished fourth in the sister BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC car, having struggled to find the pace he wanted during the opening two days. He began the final leg in sixth, a minute off the lead, but more than halved that deficit during the opening two stages this morning as he climbed to fifth. He then gained another position on the final stage when Solberg crashed out.
"It was a difficult weekend but I was able to climb up today and score valuable points for the team and myself," Hirvonen said.
"After yesterday I thought there would be no chance of a good result. I struggled and the mistake I made cost me a lot. I need to think about why I had no speed yesterday. If I could start the weekend again I would change my Friday set up," he concluded.