Latvala at home at Volkswagen heading to Monte Carlo in 2014
11 January 2014
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."
Meanwhile his team mate Andreas Mikkelsen will be making only his second start in the Rallye Monte Carlo this weekend, the Norwegian taking the wheel of the #9 Volkswagen Polo R WRC alongside co-driver Mikko Markkula.
"I would be happy to get through the Rally Monte Carlo without any mistakes this year!" he admitted ruefully. "This is only my second 'Monte': I lined up there in 2011 and crashed out on the first special stage," he groaned.
"I did not race at the 'Monte' last year, so my expectations there are not as high as the rallies I drove in 2013," he said. "This means the 'Monte' is a completely new experience for me.
"As such, I will not put all my eggs in one basket, but will take a rather cautious approach," he added. "My goal is to complete the rally and finish in the points."
Given the gruelling nature of Monte Carlo and the tricky nature of predicting the weather, just getting to the finish line after 15 stages and 380 twisting kilometers should indeed be seen as quite an accomplishment.
The 82nd Rallye Monte-Carlo gets underway on Monday, January 13 with the traditional Ceremonial Start in the Principality's glamorous Place du Casino before the Shakedown on Wednesday followed by the first proper day of competition on Thursday. This year, the previous qualifying procedure at gravel rallies has been replaced by a the starting order will now be based on the current World Championship standings.
Consisting of 15 stages over 380km, the Rally Monte Carlo traditionally winds its way through the French Maritime Alps with the centrepiece of the 2014 rally promising to be the special stage between Vitrolles and Faye. At 49.03 kilometres, it is one of the longest on the WRC calendar.
The final stage, from Sospel to Breil-sur-Roya, will also play a crucial role with its 16.55 kilometres forming the Power Stage climax in which the fastest three cars will earn bonus points towards the championship. This year the power stage will take place after dark on Saturday evening.