With a year's experience at Volkswagen now under his belt, Jari-Matti Latvala
is hoping to transform his fortunes in the 2014 World Rally Championship that gets underway next week with the Rallye Monte Carlo.
"For me, the start of the new season is a completely different situation to one year ago," said the Finn, who will be joined once again by his compatriot Miikka Anttila as co-driver of the #2 Volkswagen Polo R WRC. "Back then, both the team and the car were new to us. We are now familiar with everything."
Familiarity is one thing, but Latvala was quick to agree that the 'Monte' is a daunting prospect no matter how many times a driver competed in it.
"The first rally of the season in Monte Carlo is always a challenge," he said, adding that it "is an extremely unusual rally" compared with others on the calendar.
"The 'Monte' features 30-kilometre special stages, on which you are driving on dry asphalt for 20 kilometres and ice for the remaining ten," he explained. "20 kilometres of asphalt on spikes is just as awkward as 10 kilometres of ice on slicks."
That puts a premium on tyre selection, especially this year with the WRC operating out of a home base at Gap for the first two days before switching to working out of the famous Monaco harbour on the last day on Saturday.
"Tyres will play a major role, as the Service Park is not located in the mountains," agreed Latvala. "As such, you have to speculate on what the weather will be like up there.
"Choosing the right tyre is the biggest challenge: do you opt for snow tyres with spikes, snow tyres without spikes, super-soft slicks or soft slicks?" he mused. "You have to find the perfect compromise between these four options."
Pressed for a prediction as to how he will fare in the event, Latvala played down his expectations and responded that "I will try to finish in the top five."