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GP Week : Issue 125
WRC FEATURE >> “It is really rather scary. I was the youngest when I came in to this world championship business but I am not any longer. There are now so many younger drivers. I am still only 26, but there are now only four drivers left in the world championship that have more experience than me. So I am already one of the old drivers!” It has been nine years since we first saw Jari- Matti Latvala in the world championship and in that time he has achieved a lot, and elicited comments about his age or his driving style. The man from Central Finland now has another record coming – the youngest driver in the championship to have started 100 world rallies. And, this time, not simply the youngest – three years younger than the next youngest had been, his friend and teammate Mikko Hirvonen. Together, they are the only drivers to have reached this level before they were 30. Jari-Matti lives in a time warp, in which he meets experiences much earlier in life than others and, even at his age, he can already see how the world is a moving place. With only four drivers who have more experience, and they are all a lot older, does Jari sometimes still feel he is a young man in an older man’s world? “A few years ago I felt it but let’s say that in the last two years I haven’t really felt it any more. But I agree, I notice the changes. “For me the biggest difference with the sport is that rallies are shorter in kilometres. When I started, they had around 400km in stages. Recces are shorter, everything is now more intense; you used to have a more flexible time in the recce. There are less service points than there used to be. You also have to work more like a mechanic with the car now, especially on this rally (Acropolis) where you have a Remote Service, only 15 minutes, and you have so many stage kilometres to go. So even in my short lifetime the sport has changed a lot.” Another thing. Nine years ago, at the end of 2002 when the 17 year-old entered his first world championship rally, there was no shortage of teams in the sport. “ You had so many teams and now it is only two main teams. Okay, Mini is coming and the main thing is that we are seeing very positive things in the future. In 2003, when I did my first time here in Greece and it was my second world rally and the first in a World Rally Car, to get in the top 10 or get a stage time in top 10 was a really big thing.” Jari actually finished the rally in 10th place. Then the sport started to contract: