In Jari-Matti Latvala's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team man reflects on Rally de Portugal, where he claimed third and put memories of his offs on the Algarve-based event from the last two years firmly in the past.

I was really, really happy with the performance of my Ford Fiesta RS WRC car in Portugal. I was hoping it would be a case of third time lucky and it was nice to get the 'monkey off my back' after those big crashes there in 2010 and 2009.

It was definitely a relief to get to the finish in Faro. It was also very pleasing that speed-wise we were absolutely on the pace and until the mid-point of the rally I was even fighting for the victory. But then we had some technical issues and that dropped us out of contention.

However we still finished the rally in third and we got two extra points from the Power Stage. I was very happy with my third podium on the trot (fourth if you include last year's Wales Rally GB).

That consistency really gives me confidence and is crucial for myself and Ford in terms of the championships.

At the end of the first day on Friday a lot of people were a bit surprised that I didn't opt to play tactics and instead kept pushing right until the end, setting three fastest stage times in a row. To me though, it made perfect sense.

When Mikko [Hirvonen - my team-mate] was running as first car on the road on the Friday he didn't lose that much time. So, we thought it was not so bad a position to be in.

It should be remembered as well that compared to last year a lot of things have changed. We have new tyres and the new breed of WRC cars have less power. That means the cleaning effect is not as big as it use to be. Also, personally, I am not afraid to be first car on the road. That's why I kept pushing and was happy to be at the head of the field at the close of the opening day.

The strategy seemed to work too and I was only 11 or so seconds behind Sebastien Ogier after SS11.

Then came SS12 though, the penultimate test on day two, and the driveshaft failure was a real disappointment as I knew with it we had lost the chance to win. But technical problems are all part and parcel of motorsport. It is part of the game. You just need to accept that. The main thing is to learn from such issues and try to avoid having the same problem again. That is the most important thing.

Following SS12 we had to do some work on the car after the driveshaft failure and in all the commotion we forgot to check one of the tyres. Then when we started SS13 I felt something wasn't right and knew we had a slow puncture. Mid-way through the stage the tyre delaminated and we had to stop and change it.

Mikko then overtook me and I thought he would run away, as I only had three driveshafts. But then he had a suspension problem and I actually caught him and had to overtake him. It felt a bit like the Dakar Rally in that last stage on the Saturday - there was a lot of dust and overtaking!

Could we have won without those issues?

It is difficult to say. The conditions on the next day for the final leg were very demanding and surprisingly we got a heavy rain shower on the second to last stage in the rally. That made a big difference. I think it would have been very interesting, but we'll never know.

As is the norm now, the event concluded with the Power Stage and until about 10 kilometres, I was leading and feeling very good.

But then between 10-15 kilometres, I didn't drive very well. Something didn't go right on that section. It was very twisty. Maybe I was too aggressive or something. But that is where I lost the Power Stage victory.

I conceded three or four seconds to Sebastien Loeb and although I really tried to attack at the end and managed to pull it back a bit, obviously it was not enough and I finished up 1.7 seconds slower. It was a shame, but still it was a promising weekend.

The test before the event was very useful and we made a lot of improvements on the suspension and the diffs. I was very happy with the car. The handling is really, really good now and generally the car is very quick. We just need a little bit more reliability and then the results will come.

Still the 3-4 result was positive and it keeps Ford on top in the manufacturers' after round three. It is important to remember that Portugal and Mexico have never been our strongest gravel rallies too. Normally we are better on the other gravel events and I think that bodes well. I hope we can have a proper fight this year for the manufacturers' title.

Of course there is a big interest in the drivers' title too and that is now very close and I am just 10 points behind the joint leaders, Mikko and Loeb. But the main focus for Ford, as I have said before, is the manufacturers'.

Next up we head to Jordan in a few weeks time and it is another quite difficult event. The stages in Jordan have a lot of blind crests and the tests are very slippery. The gravel is compacted and it is very, very shiny on the top. You can even see the black braking marks on the ground. It is a demanding rally for the driver.

However on the plus side, it is a very compact rally. A lot of the stages are close to the surface park and that is great as we don't have long road sections.

The service park is fantastic too and the hotels are wonderful. It is a great place, a bit like a holiday place where you can have the rally - and the days are not too long (thanks to the short road sections). In that sense it is a nice rally, a nice event. But as I said before, the stages are demanding and can catch people out.

We will have another four-day test next week to prepare for the trip to the Middle East, with Mikko and myself doing two days apiece in Spain.

Then it is full steam ahead for the Jordan Rally and having finished second last year and seventh on the inaugural event in 2008 I really hope to be able to fight for the victory this time. That is what I really, really hope. But we will see. To win the rally everything needs to click together and we will need a clear run. But the car is at a very good level at the moment and that gives me a lot of confidence.

I'll definitely be looking to maintain my run of rostrums - although it would be nice to end up two steps higher on the podium.

Jari-Matti Latvala

 

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