Jari-Matti Latvala will celebrate his 100th World Rally Championship start on home turf on Rally Finland this weekend, and as he prepares to mark 100-not-out, the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team star has warned against pushing too hard, stressing that on the fastest event on the calendar, 'every error is magnified'.
The WRC is revving back into life in Finland – the eighth round of 13 on the season schedule – following a six-week summer hiatus, and will get underway with a short opening leg on Thursday. Latvala followed in the wheel tracks of team-mate Mikko Hirvonen in triumphing on the event this time last year, in so doing elevating himself to superstar status in a country in which rallying is second only to ice-hockey in terms of popularity.
The 26-year-old has extra-special reason to try to successfully defend that victory this time around, too, as the 2011 edition of Rally Finland will mark his centenary in the sport – and he will be the youngest competitor ever to reach that milestone, to-boot.
Buoyed by a positive two-day test behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC there last week, Latvala is confident that he is ready to take on the unique challenge posed by the high-intensity event's legendary, blisteringly fast rollercoaster roads littered with awesome, stomach-churning jumps through the Finnish forests – prioritising bravery, speed, endurance and pinpoint precision...as well as a healthy dose of local knowledge, with only seven non-Finns having prevailed in the rally's 60-year history.
“The car has become increasingly more stable as the season has progressed, and it feels great on the fast roads and jumps,” enthused last season's World Rally Championship runner-up. “It's such a quick rally that a driver must know his limits and be sensible. You don't want to be frightened at the wheel, but you must be able to feel the fear and recognise where those limits are.
“The pace is such that every error in Finland is magnified, and to win, you need to have a perfect drive from the first corner to the last. These are the most difficult gravel roads in the world on which to compete, and so much thought has to go into the lines and braking-points for jumps. The perfect jump is not too high, with the car landing on all four wheels, like a cat. It requires a higher level of concentration than any other rally.
“To reach 100 starts feels strange. For me, a driver who makes his 100th start has been in the sport a long time, but I'm only 26 and don't feel I've been around a long time. Perhaps I have!”