Jari-Matti Latvala marked his return to the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team fold in style last weekend by taking the runners-up spot on the Pioneer Rally Japan.

Latvala ran in second for almost all the event and on the final day significantly reduced the gap to team-mate Mikko Hirvonen to just under 5 seconds.

However he eased off in the final loop to ensure the Blue Oval got the one-two result and the maximum 18 points necessary to keep the battle for the manufacturers' championship alive.

The result was a major boost for the 23-year-old and while he took a 'moral' podium in Corsica - he only dropped to fourth after purposely picking up a penalty to aid Hirvonen's title bid - this was his first proper top-three result since the Rally of Turkey prior to the World Rally Championship's summer break.

"It feels fantastic to take a top three finish on gravel again. After a bad August this is my third strong rally and I really wanted this result," Jari-Matti reflected. "The conditions were probably the worst I've seen and I can't explain how much water there was in the forests. We seemed to be aquaplaning all the time.

"The difficult rallies really suit the Focus RS WRC, which is incredibly strong. We've had no problems during the weekend and when you have to attack in the rough and tough conditions then it's encouraging to know that the car excels on that type of road."

As for his confidence, he added that it is now a lot better and back to where it was before 'black' August when he had three crashes in as many events.

"Mentally, I have been really low after the crashes in August. Catalunya and Corsica were good [when I was with the Stobart squad] and now being back in the factory team is nice. It's really good to be back," he continued.

"My confidence is at the same level as Turkey now. The level was good in Finland, but then it went wrong. It's been a year where I've learned a lot of new things. I hope this makes me stronger."

Just one round remains now in 2008 and heading to Wales Rally GB, Jari-Matti is hopeful he can end the season on a high and possibly take his second victory at the top level, to add to the one he notched up in Sweden back in February.

"Yeah [I want to try and win in GB]. Today I was actually saying when we were getting closer to Mikko, 'I really have the big passion for winning'. It came to my heart when I pushed Mikko," he noted. "We had a small discussion in the service park though and I realised this was not my time.

"Wales is always one of the best rallies for me. Only in 2005 we had a withdrawal, otherwise it's a great rally. Mikko won there last year. Mikko is very strong in those conditions. I would expect Sebastien [Loeb], Petter [Solberg] to go fast, and maybe Chris [Atkinson] too. Once again, you need to start flat out if you want to win."

Latvala's co-driver Miikka Antilla meanwhile said that Jari is definitely firing on all cylinders once more: "I think he's back at his natural speed. I never lost confidence in his speed and talent. When you do 15 rallies this year, there are ups and downs. There might be some bad results, also some good results. We have Rally GB soon and I'm quite confident we can do the same as this rally, maybe even better. We'll see," he summed-up.



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