Ford World Rally Team boss Malcolm Wilson insists that Jari-Matti Latvala is ready to lead the Blue Oval during the 2012 World Rally Championship season following the departure of Mikko Hirvonen to Citroen.
Latvala will take up the role of lead driver within the team this season with former champion Petter Solberg having been named as his team-mate, with the Finn aiming to take the fight to Sebastien Loeb during 2012.
Although he only took victory on one occasion last year, in the final event of the season in Wales, Wilson said he had no doubt that Latvala was ready to lead the team having shown his pace through the second half of 2011.
“I think everyone could see the performance of Jari-Matti in the second half of last season,” he told Crash.net
. “He only won Rally GB but we know he could have won more, He was clearly the fastest driver and had more fastest times that any other driver - including Sebastien Loeb - last year and as lot of that was in the second half of the year.
“We know that Jari-Matti has developed to the point where we feel he can now go to every rally and challenge for victory, even on tarmac – some of his performances there last season were sensational. He finished the year on a high and is in great spirits and we know he is up for it. He has the back-up of Petter Solberg and we have made it clear that Jari-Matti is the number one and that Petter is there to back him up.”
If Latvala were to win the title, it would mark the first time anyone other than Loeb has taken the title since Petter Solberg was champion back in 2003, and Wilson insisted that his lead driver was more than capable of beating the Frenchman.
“I think we saw last year that there are possibilities,” he said. “There is no question that Jari-Matti had Sebastien in a position he hasn't been in for a long time on Rally GB and of course Jari's performance on tarmac has improved – although with Sebastien's record on tarmac I wouldn't be so brave as to say he is going to win all the events there. However, I definitely think he can mount a strong challenge of those asphalt rallies and on the gravel rallies.
“If he can continue where he left of in GB, I don't see any reason why he can't challenge. In my eyes, he has to be one of the favourites for the gravel events.”