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GP Week : Issue 48
Ford:a rally to remember There was spring in the air in the Ford camp. Jari-Matti Latvala was in fine form.: “Yes, I really think we can win this rally, Mikko or me.” It wasn’t a foregone conclusion – the rival Citroen team had won the previous six World Championship rallies and his teammate Mikko Hirvonen had done or eaten something which made him feel less than his best. Mikko’s three second places on this event in as many years was a heaven- sent incentive to go one better, although Jari-Matti himself had not enjoyed, let’s say, the best of seasons. But there was something about Sardinia which clicked for Jari-Matti. Forget the year when he drove a Suzuki S1600 which fell apart or 2006 when he missed the event with a broken wrist, his record on the island was splendid – winning Group N in 2005; leading a World Rally for the very first time in 2007; scoring 10 fastest times in 2008: “I have a perfect chance to win this rally as we are starting seventh car on the road. All I have got to do is bring the car safely to the end and I could win my second World Rally”. That was 48 hours before the start. “The stages are quite specific,” Latvala explained. “Quite a lot are very narrow and often you find you are driving round trees, but it is surprisingly fast and flowing, which suits my driving style”– something he knew from his previous experience. And he knew one or two things about the event which might come in handy. “Dust isn’t likely to be a problem, except the opening stages in the still, cooler air on the final morning.” Latvala enjoyed the first day, holding an overall lead of 15-20 seconds, though probably not a safe margin if he had to start first car on Day 2. So, what would happen? Would there be orders to drop back? With Dani Sordo already losing a lot of time, M-Sport bosses studied what Citroen chiefs thought Sebastien 0 Loeb, driving in enforced ignorance at the head of the field, would be doing. When they found Loeb had tactically slowed they told Mikko and Jari- Matti to react correspondingly, but it all went wrong. Ford’s plans were instantly changed. Instead of being told to slow down, Latvala was now told to go flat out. He ended the day leading Mikko by 39.8 seconds with Loeb another 3 seconds behind. Latvala therefore was to start Day 2 first car on the road, but with a healthy lead. Latvala had been in this position before, but this was going to be his most testing challenge to date. He had to conquer his nerves. “Surviving the second day driving first car on the road was a most important success for me. Being able to survive that sort of pressure was the sort of thing you had to be able to do if you want to win rallies regularly in the future.” By now the Citroen challenge was fading. The major debate was whether Latvala would be allowed to win or be asked to hand this over to Hirvonen. When his car arrived back at base at the end of day 2, Malcolm Wilson spoke glowingly about Latvala’s performance so far – like corporate- speak presaging a decision that he was about to be demoted. In fact, Wilson first wanted to see what would happen on the opening stages on the final day. Even with only five stages to run, it was too early to give orders. Latvala’s prediction about the windless dust on the final morning proved true, and it just didn’t make sense to try to take risks with further orders. Keeping their 1-2 positions was the most important priority on the Ford menu. So it was that Jari Matti added another record to his collection. He was already the youngest driver ever to win a World Championship rally; he was now also the second-youngest ever winner, relegating his long time personal hero, the late Henri Toivonen, to third. And Mikko got his fourth successive second place..