Jari-Matti Latvala has reflected that Ford's one-two finish on Rally Australia last weekend was a 'big' result for the team – and even if he concedes that he was disappointed to have had to give up what would have been his first victory of the 2011 World Rally Championship campaign, he admits that 'you need to see the bigger picture'.
After finding himself elevated to second place behind Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team team-mate Mikko Hirvonen when both of the factory Citroën cars crashed out on Friday, Latvala went on to overhaul his fellow Finn for the lead on SS11, and courtesy of a string of scintillating stage times, there he remained until the penultimate stage, at which point he dutifully slowed to reverse the order and enable his title-chasing compatriot to tally his third consecutive Rally Australia triumph.
After costing the Malcolm Wilson-led operation crucial ground in the manufacturers' standings through a number of mistakes earlier on in the year, Latvala reflected that playing the team game was the least he could do.
“I lost my chance in the drivers' championship in the springtime when I had three bad rallies in a row,” he mused, “and I said already in Greece that it was all over from my side and I need to support Mikko if he has a chance – and now was the time. It's never a nice feeling to slow down and drop behind – of course, nobody enjoys that – but you need to see the bigger picture.
“I think I have been very unlucky in some rallies this year, but [this time] I had a lot of luck with me. I had a scary moment two kilometres into the first stage on Friday morning, when I spun and went backwards into the forest. Even [on Sunday], I went wide in one of the corners and there was a big tree and I could just hear a little touch, but there was no damage on the car so it must have been a magic touch!
“The scariest moment was on that first stage, the same place where [Sébastien] Ogier went off the road on the first passage that was fully muddy on that corner. When you came to the top of the crest, you couldn't see, then suddenly we hit at least a two-metre diameter big wood, but somehow it caught back...
“The main thing was I had a good feeling – the speed was there – and I'm really happy for the team that I can see the whole new speed coming for the next three rallies. I think there's been a little bit of frustration within the team because there have been a lot of things happening and we haven't won a gravel rally until now, so of course it will boost a lot. It's a big thing.”
The next event will be right in Citroën's backyard in France, and will mark a return to tarmac – a surface on which the Fiesta RS WRC has yet to prevail. The most recent tarmac outing – in Germany last month – was the only rally to-date in 2011 in which Ford has failed to finish up on the podium, but Latvala is confident that the team will be much more competitive this time around.
“Last year, I set some good stage times in France,” the 26-year-old recollected. “I like France more than Germany; Germany has never really been good for me. I have always had trouble over there, which I have to improve for the future. I feel quite comfortable to go to France, though; it was a very difficult rally last year, but I'm looking forward to it. I know the tarmac is grippy over there and we have a good testing plan coming up; we need to make sure we get all the benefits from testing so that we are strong in the rally.”