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GP Week : Issue 31
5 Minutes with ... jari-matti latvala This season has been one of contrast for Finland’s youngest rally star. He took his first win in Sweden, but has struggled recently. He spoke toMARTIN HOLMES in Spain JARI-MATTI Latvala is certainly the most mercurial star of the 2008 World Championship Scene. He was also victorious second time out with a top line World Championship team (in Sweden this year), and the youngest driver by far to win a World Rally. He was lying in third place behind Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb in the drivers’ title race at the midway point of the 2008 series, but then, as he puts it, came Black August. As a result, Francois Duval drives the number four BP factory car in Catalunya and Corsica, demoting Jari-Matti back to the Stobart car for those two events. GPWEEK: Talk us through the situation … JARI-MATTI LATVALA: Last year everything was going so well. All through 2007, when I was driving in the Stobart team, I felt I was able to go faster and faster and at the end of the season at the Wales Rally GB I was able to make the greatest number of fastest stage times. I felt ready to move upwards to the top level of the world championship, a drive with the BP Ford Rally Team. It was everything that I wanted – proper testing before each event, proper recce cars, and indeed that win in Sweden. By the middle of the year, after Turkey, I was lying third in the World Championship. Everything looked good, but it did not last with the arrival of Black August. Finland, Germany and then New Zealand, all in the same month, where it all went wrong. The end of your dream? One rally after another I let 18 the side down. I support every sportsman, people in my position have a similar experience at some time in their career or another, and it isn’t nice. The more I think about it, the most important thing about all these misfortunes is learning to put them behind you, to get up and get going again. New Zealand, for the team, must have been the most disappointing thing of all. New Zealand was not a normal situation, however … All I can say was that in New Zealand I was in new territory, driving first car on the road and having to push as hard as I could at the same time. The first time through the final day’s stages things went well, but then on the final runs through the stages we discovered things we never expected, [like] the way the clean lines left by the drivers the first time through the stages were quite different to what we had expected, and this is what caught us out. All I can say is that I was relieved that I did not get into trouble with the Ford management in the way I had expected. Of course they were as disappointed as I was, but Malcolm Wilson could see the sort of problems we were facing. We now come to the two tarmac rallies. More things to learn? What was important for me was the chance to learn more about asphalt driving. When I was younger I did some karting, but not really car racing, although I have been driven in some race circuits. Catalunya is the closest rally to race driving in the World Championship. I have recently had some tuition about race driving with [Finnish Touring Car star] Olli Haapalainen. He immediately noticed something about the way I was braking. I was making the car unnecessarily nervous as I came to a bend and he noticed I was making the car understeer in the corners. We worked a lot in making the car brake hard but more smoothly. Then he was noting the way I was approaching the corners. He taught me how to go a little earlier into the corners, and in the very slow corners, how to drive slower into the corners then increase the throttle when exiting the bend. This meant making a little bit different lines through the bends. Maybe one of my problems was that I was trying to stay out for too long on the approach to corners. On tarmac you need to go into the corner earlier than you need to on gravel. Now we will see what difference it all makes!