BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Finland on Saturday to earn a place in the history books and join a long list of Finnish greats who have triumphed on their home event.

Latvala, who eventually took the victory by 10.1 seconds in his Ford Focus RS WRC car, was mobbed by his fellow countrymen when he took to the podium in Jyv?skyl?. The 25-year-old, already the youngest driver to win a world rally, also now becomes the youngest ever winner of Rally Finland since the WRC started back in 1973.

"It's amazing to win my home rally," said Latvala, who remained unflustered throughout even though his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen had crashed out spectacularly early on. "It's unbelievable. So good, and such a relief, and with all these people you saw at the podium and in the stages, they come to support you so you can win it. There are no words to describe it.

"I'm so happy to hear I am the youngest too. Sebastien Loeb has beaten all the records; at least something is left for me! Winning here is something I have dreamed of since I was a small boy.

"The first time I watched this rally was in 1992 when I was seven and the only thing I could think about then was that I would never be able to drive as fast as the stars I was watching. In 2003 I drove this rally for the first time and still I never thought I would win. To win in front of my home fans, in a country where rallying means so much to everyone, is a dream."

Despite his success though, and despite starting the second leg with a 9.1 second lead, he admitted he was fortunate there was overnight rain. That helped bind together the slippery surface gravel and provide him with more grip, a real benefit as he was first in the order on the second day and potentially facing the unwanted task of playing 'road sweeper'.

"It [the rain] helped a lot in the first stage [this morning]," he explained, "then I concentrated in the third stage after I lost time in the second stage [SS13]. I made a big attack in the new four kilometres of the third stage and that helped me a lot. Sebastien was pushing very hard, both of them. They made my position very uncomfortable. But then in the afternoon, I was able to take time, although they would then catch me, then I would make more time, then they would take it back - it was real cat and mouse.

"I didn't think about winning when I came here, but things went well yesterday, then last night I had the feeling for the victory. But, everything had to be perfect to win. We were a little bit lucky."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson meanwhile was delighted to see Latvala win to give the 'Blue Oval' its second consecutive victory on this legendary event and its fourth in five years. He described Latvala's performance as 'stunning'.

"After a difficult few months, the team has dug deep and bounced back to win the most celebrated rally in the calendar," Wilson said. "There has been so much effort and commitment from the entire team in recent weeks and this is our reward.

"It was a stunning drive from Jari-Matti. There was a lot of pressure on his young shoulders when [number one driver] Mikko Hirvonen crashed out yesterday but he handled it superbly and displayed great maturity in a difficult situation."

Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn agreed that Latvala's performance was something special: "There is no better place for Ford to win a rally than Finland. It is one of motorsport's classic events and to triumph here, after leading for virtually the entire event, is a dream come true.

"Jari-Matti joins some of Ford's great Finnish drivers who have won their home event, world champions like Marcus Gr?nholm, Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola. He faced really intense pressure here for two days but the mature way in which he handled it shows how well he is progressing as one of the sport's rising stars," Quinn summed-up.


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