In Jari-Matti Latvala's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man reflects on Wales Rally GB, where he finished third and secured the runners-up spot in the 2010 WRC drivers' championship.

What a way to end the year in my Ford Focus RS WRC car! It was such a great feeling to claim that final podium spot on the Sunday and take second in the championship. It was a big relief too, especially as it didn't look so good on the Friday evening when I had a puncture and lost 1 minute 10 seconds. But we kept fighting - and second in the standings is an amazing result.

Wales Rally GB started well and to be quickest in the first proper stage was a big boost. I had very good speed on the Friday and the car felt great. It was working very well in the conditions and after Sweet Lamb 2 [SS6] I had a 4.5 second lead, even though heavy rain in the afternoon made the conditions pretty horrendous.

Normally when it rains and it is heavy rain, it actually makes the grip a little bit better because it cleans the mud away. But this time the stages were really muddy and in places very slippery.

Then came SS7 - the final stage on day one - and I had a little bit of a problem with the windscreen. It was getting misted up and visibility was not good.

I took a bit of a wrong line on a right hand corner over a crest, about 5 kilometres in. It was a very fast section and I went slightly wide and hit the bank. It pushed the tyre off the rim and there were still 20 kilometres of Myherin 2 to go. I kept going as quick as I could, but then one kilometre from the end the tyre exploded and destroyed the rear left corner.

It was very frustrating. Obviously it was a long test and I was pushing to do a good time. I felt I needed one too because I knew there were some tarmac sections on the Saturday in Four Way Crychan [SS10 and SS14] and Sebastien Loeb is always strong on asphalt. Sadly though my mistake dropped me from first to sixth and I thought I had lost any hope of keeping a top-three place in the championship.

The next day though I managed to make a good recovery and climbed back up to fourth. Of course it helped me a lot when Sebastien Ogier retired and if he had been there my chances would probably not have been so good to get second or third in the championship. But he went out and that changed the situation.

I kept pushing throughout day two and set some good times, overhauling Dani Sordo in Halfway 1 [SS11]. I also closed up on my team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, even though I had a launch control failure on the second to last stage [SS15]. The car stalled and I lost seven seconds, which was annoying as I was only 8.6 seconds off him going into the final leg.

Sunday my aim was to catch Mikko and we basically had a free hand until the last stage when he slowed down. However I was already slightly ahead then anyway and had got in front in the penultimate stage, albeit by only 0.3 seconds. It was enough though and third allowed me to end 2010 really positively.

I think I should say a bit about more about Rally GB though before talking about the year as a whole.

I've always liked Rally GB and the stages are great. There were a couple of new ones this year and a few tarmac sections added in as a result. I was a little bit afraid of those before the rally. But thankfully they were not as bad as I expected. Indeed I set good times in Four Ways Crychan so it didn't really slow me down.

The main issue though was the road sections. They are really long and it makes the days a bit of marathon. I know why they moved the event to Cardiff - as it is the capital and so on, but it is just a bit too far away from the stages. Personally I'd prefer it if the central service was somewhere a bit closer to the action.

Anyway that's it now for this year, at least in terms of events, and for me it is mission accomplished.

I really wanted to finish in the top-three in 2010 as the last two years I've been fourth. Before the season I thought Sebastien Loeb and Mikko would probably be fighting for the championship - as they did in 2009 - and so if I could finish third after them that would be brilliant. But now I find I am second. That is better than I ever imagined.

Overall the main thing I have got right this year is the consistency. I have generally been able to work and get it to the level I should have been at already.

Being the second driver, the number two driver, I thought I wouldn't be able to win any rallies. But I still won two rallies this year in New Zealand and Finland and got two big bonuses. Of course I went off the road in Portugal and Turkey, but I still finished in the points in twelve of the thirteen rounds - six times on the podium - and only retired once. I am more than happy with that.

Rally GB marked the end of an era for the current generation of WRC cars and to give the Focus RS WRC a podium on its final event was nice. It would have been better to win the last rally with the 2 litre turbo cars and get the victory for M-Sport and Ford, unfortunately though, we couldn't do it.

The Focus has however, been a brilliant car over the years and the car has been in the points for 132 consecutive rallies, which is quite remarkable. It is a very calm, easy car to drive. The engine is very powerful with a lot of torque and it is easy to work with. Obviously that is what I will miss. Also it is a very strong car and I know it really, really well. But things are going forward and there is a new generation of rally car coming up. We are working on that and it is time to move on.

We have a lot of testing planned with the Fiesta RS WRC now before the 2011 season begins in Sweden in February next year. There is also a little bit of PR work to do, so well the season may officially be over, it is still going to be busy over the next few weeks.

Indeed the off-season will be more hectic than usual simply because Ford and Citroen will both be pulling out all the stops to make sure they begin the new era on form.

So far, at Ford, the team and drivers are all happy with the Fiesta RS WRC. We are progressing well although we still have a lot of work to do.

It has been a long year and I must admit I feel a bit tired. But Christmas will soon be here and we should get at least three weeks to relax.

Besides I know as soon as I stop I'll be itching to get back testing in January so that I can begin 2011 in the best way possible.

I'm looking forward to the new season already. I really want to try and fight for the championship and work hard to make sure Ford gets the manufacturers' title again. It won't be easy to become champion and you need a bit of luck and everything needs to come together. But I think, at least, I am now ready myself to start fighting for it.

Jari-Matti Latvala

 

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