In his first exclusive column for 2011, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man Jari-Matti Latvala reflects on the opening round in Sweden, where he enjoyed what he labelled 'the most eventful rally of his life', en-route to third and yet another rostrum finish.

I'm really pleased to have started the year by getting on the podium on Rally Sweden. I said before the event that my target was to get in the top-three with the all-new Fiesta RS WRC and I achieved that. However I also had a lot of moments along the way. I have never had so many in one rally and in the end I felt quite fortunate to get to the finish.

I think one of the reasons I had so many close calls was that I still have in my mind how I would have driven the Focus RS WRC, especially in the very high-speed areas.

With the Fiesta RS WRC now, we not only have different tyres to last year, but also the wheel-base is shorter and the car is more like a square. It is handling really, really well. But in the high-speed sections you need to be a little bit more careful. I had this way of doing things with the Focus RS WRC last year and I tried to go the same way with the new Fiesta RS WRC. That was what led to far too many brushes with the snow banks.

The first big one happened on the Friday when I clipped a bank in the final test of the morning and spun through more than 360 degrees. It was hard on the opening loop as there had been heavy snowfall on the Thursday and that continued throughout Friday night. There was about 24 hours of snow and in the first stage on the Friday it was still snowing. That made it very demanding in those opening three stages.

It was very, very slippery and there was about 10-15 cm of fresh snow to clear. Of course it was even more difficult for Sebastian Loeb, who was running first. But it was also difficult for me as the second man in. The road position was better the later you started - and Mads Ostberg really made good use of this to seize the lead, full credit to him.

Despite my starting position though, I was still fourth at the end of SS4 and I felt more confident on the afternoon loop and eventually finished the day just 12.6 seconds off Petter Solberg in third.

On Saturday it was better to again run behind and so I was glad to be fourth and not second on the road. However on the Sunday morning it was actually the opposite, which was a bit frustrating after I slowed at the end of day two to get what I thought would be a better road position.

As it turned out there was only a small amount of snow on top for the first loop on Sunday and as more cars went through the ice underneath began to break up. This meant it actually got more slippery and so my position was not so great.

In the afternoon for the final three tests though, the situation was reversed again and so I was in a good position to fight back and claim third, overhauling Petter and Sebastien Ogier.

I enjoyed the way the event concluded with the first-ever Power Stage. I thought that was good for the sport and good for the TV coverage. Gustavsfors was probably the best stage in the rally and it has a really nice character. I liked the fact the first Power Stage was done on a proper test too as opposed to a short 1 km stadium super special.

I also think how they have decided to allocate the points for the top-three is positive. A similar thing was used in 1990, I think, in Finland. But back then the winner of the test actually got ten points, not three. That made it far too important. The way the points are awarded now is pretty much spot on.

I know in some ways, especially if you are leading the rally, the chance of those bonus points is a bit irrelevant. But it does make the whole thing a bit more interesting and a bit more exciting.

Overall, I think Rally Sweden was a very good event for the team. A one-two-three was the perfect result and I am very pleased for everyone at Ford and M-Sport.

The cars worked really well throughout the three-days. We had a little problem with the steering track, which was leaking, and we had to change that, but nothing else. Otherwise the car worked fine.

We learned a lot of new things about how the Fiesta RS WRC behaves in the cold conditions too. We need to get stronger heaters inside the cars and also we need to improve some bumper fittings. But nothing major.

For the drivers we learned a lot as well. It was the first time in the cars in a real competition environment. As I mentioned before, I had a way of thinking with the Focus RS WRC and how to go in the stages, and now I realise I need to alter that somewhat with this car, knowing that will make it easier when we go to Rally Mexico.

We haven't been so successful in Mexico in the past. But the philosophy with the Fiesta RS WRC is different to the Focus RS WRC. We had a five-speed gearbox in the Focus RS WRC and the engine was more focused on torque. But now we have an engine that is more concentrated on the revs and we have a six-speed 'box. So, I have a much more confident feeling going there than I had last year.

We should be strong. It will be the first rally where you really see the differences between the old and new cars.

Mexico itself is a good event. It has a nice atmosphere and I like the location. The stages are close to the service park and the road sections are not too long. Some stages are very nice. But you need to be careful as there are concrete-like stones inside and outside the corners.

We have a pre-Mexico test this week in Portugal and we will be working hard there to ensure we are as ready as possible for round two.

I am doing two and a half days of testing - two days on gravel and half a day on like a race circuit, just to get the car ready for the tarmac super specials, which we will have when we go to Mexico.

We have already done quite a bit of gravel running with the test car and we should be able to get a good set-up. The only issue could be the weather. It is not always so warm in Europe at this time of year as Mexico. But hopefully we will get dry conditions.

I feel as a team we are looking good and I'll be going for another top-three in a few weeks time. We should definitely be able to do that.

Jari-Matti Latvala



Loading Comments...