Rally Sweden winner Jari-Matti Latvala says his latest WRC success is the result of emphasising a focus on the start of the 2014 campaign.
The Finn, who took control of the second round of the season when Volkswagen team-mate Sebastien Ogier made an error on SS8, admits that perhaps failing to concentrate enough in previous years has cost him a shot at both individual wins and a shot at championship honours. With Ogier only recovering to sixth place in Sweden, Latvala now heads the overall table by five points, albeit with a long way still to go.
“I am [more relaxed now], but I have tried be more focused and concentrate,” he confirmed, “I have had difficult starts to the season so many times and not done so good starts. And, when you are at a low point in the start, it's so difficult – halfway into the year, you have already lost your championship!
“I really wanted to concentrate to get a good start for the  season. I got fifth in the Monte and I knew it would be important to get a good position over here to keep the championship interesting. Maybe I was taking too much pressure [on] myself before the start, but then it was getting better and then it started to work. I really wanted to say thank you to Christoph [Treier], my mental trainer. He has helped me a lot. This was something the team was asking and I was considering for me that it could be good, so thanks for the team for thinking about this.”
With Ogier and third VW driver Andreas Mikkelsen both on form in Sweden, Latvala did not have an easy ride to his victory. Indeed, the Finn feared for his chances early on, before capitalising on an uncharacteristic mistake from last month's Monte winner.
“If you look at my start for the first day, it didn't look like I'm going to win the rally,” he conceded, “Okay I was ten seconds behind Ogier - and not winning any stages - but then, luckily, things changed on the second morning and I started to get the feeling for the car after some set-up changes and I started to improve the driving in the ruts.
“When the conditions started to be a bit more demanding, that was suiting me. Unfortunately, Ogier went off the road for four-and-a-half minutes, but then I started a big fight with Andreas. Yesterday evening, I started to doubt how we can make it because Andreas suddenly gained so much time on the Super Special, where I had problems with my tyres and also a little bit my driving.
“That was not great but, this morning, I really focused on this morning and to attack on the first two stages. [The pressure only came off when] Andreas touched the snowbank with the front and took too much snow in the front bumper. The engine started to get too hot and he lost some time in Torntorp, the second stage this morning. At that time, I started to feel less pressure. With 30 seconds' lead I thought I could relax… five per cent.”
Despite holding the upper hand, Latvala revealed that he had decided to 'go for it' in the Power Stage.
“Basically, our plan was to go out there and drive as fast as we had done - but we were not trying to score the points,” he insisted, “If it comes with normal driving, as we had been doing on the day, then it's great but we don't add any extra. It was a very clean, very nice run. There was maybe a little chance to push, but then always the risk is going higher. Mads [Østberg] did a very good stage so I'm very happy with those points.”
Latvala's third win in Sweden elevates him into some exalted company.
“This is a very special moment, winning three times – but there are also some very legendary drivers,” he noted, “Five drivers have won more than two times here, [and] it's great to be among drivers like Stig Blomqvist, Bjorn Waldegård, Tommi Mäkinen and Marcus Grönholm. This is a special event, one I won first time in 2008, so it's a very special moment.”
Co-driver Miikka Anttila admitted that, despite the venue being the same, the feeling of victory was different this time around.
“In , it was coming maybe too easy because the conditions were quite similar,” he said, “We were starting from behind and we managed to get the lead and finally it was only Mikko [Hirvonen] we were driving against.
“Now it's different. Basically, on the first day, we were in a good speed but not in a perfect fit. Then, on the next morning, when Ogier got stuck on the snow bank, we knew that now we have to play a really, really clever game - we thought of the strategy we needed to do to win this rally. We followed this strategy and the only time it didn't work out was on the Hagfors Sprint stage yesterday when we lost some time and Jari-Matti was very upset.
“But I said it was better to carry on in the rally than be in the snow bank because we have seen this is possible on the Hagfors Sprint in the past. Everything went according to plan. There was no single moment when I thought 'this is going to be the snowbank for us...'.