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LATVALA STEELED FOR LOEB TITLE DUEL
ByDanMcCalla Jari-Matti Latvala says he will fight Sébastien Loeb for this year’s World Rally Championship title right from the very first round, next week’s Rally Monte Carlo.
The 26-year-old Finn is the man with the best chance of preventing Loeb claiming his ninth straight title after being confirmed as Ford’s official team leader for 2012, the first time Latvala has held the position of sole number one pilot. He’s feeling bullish for the season ahead after finishing 2011 on a high with some breakthrough stage times on Tarmac and victory at the seasonclosing Wales Rally GB.
Piling on pressure Armedwith the pace to challenge Loeb on his day and a car in the Ford Fiesta RSWRCthat is the equal of Citroën’ DS3 in performance, Latvala recognises that the destination of the 2012 drivers’ title could be decided by very small margins. As such, he believes it’s crucial to maintain the pressure on Loeb right the way through the 13-round season, through the same consistent scoring on each rally that took his erstwhile Ford team-mate MikkoHirvonen within eight points of an unlikely title victory last year.
“Seb Loeb is so strong and so consistent that I believe that the fight for the championship will be very close and very tight towards the end of the year,” said five-time world
Latvala is desperate to halt any early charge from Sébastien Loeb rally winner Latvala. “But what was interesting to see that in 2011, Mikko won only two rounds and was very consistent but hewas still fighting for the championship.”
Latvala feels that conceding too much ground to Loeb in the early stages of the season would give him a huge mountain to climb, and would allow Loeb to relax and start playing the percentage game in order to clinch title number nine. “If we’re competitive you might see somemore mistakes and then the points
Latvala wants wins gaps won’t be so good for him,” he said. “What is important is to stay competitive all year because that builds up the pressure. If there’s no pressure then Loeb is strong and it feels like he’s unbeatable, but if we are always there with him then we can see a very good fight coming on.”
Loeb’s back yard Latvala goes into the first world championship Monte Carlo Rally in four years as a distinct outsider, with five-time event winner Loeb the hot favourite for the five-day Alpine classic. However, Latvala realises that the unpredictable nature of a rally that is frequently hit by sudden snow showers, allied to the lack of any SupeRally regulation this year, means that there is still plenty of opportunity for him to fight for victory.
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favourite rally and he has won it five times now,” Latvala told Motorsport News. “Hewants to go there and win the rally of course, but if you are fighting for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championship then you have to go there and fight for the victory. But if it looks like myspeed isn’t on the same level as Loeb, there is no point to take big risks because the risk of error in Monte Carlo is so muchhigher than any other rally. I would be very happy to be in the top three, and that would be a good way to start the season.” However, Latvala admits that he is a little concerned by his lack of recent experience on the roads in the area, due to the Monte’s three-year tenure as an IRC round. Loeb is the established master of the event, while Ford team-mate Petter Solberg and Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen have both contested the event in the IRC. “I haven’t been there for four years but at least I’m in the situation with Loeb, he hasn’t been there either,” said Latvala. “But every year the conditions are different so you can’t exactly transfer 2011 experience into 2012.”
Tyre choice is key For a rally as specialised asMonte Carlo, choosing the right tyres will be critical, andMichelin is providing World Rally Car crews with a range of five different compounds for the event –more than usual as making cuts into tyres isn’t allowed in the world championship.
Latvala joined Loeb in aMonte tyre test in France last month, and having got the chance to sample each of the compounds available, he has emphasised the importance of the information teams will receive from their gravel and weather crews.
“There are now options that can makemuchmore of a difference if you pick up the right tyres, so again now the gravel crew and the weather people are in a very important role in Monte Carlo,” said Latvala “There have been years in Monte Carlo that it has not been so much snow and ice it can be always be quite dry and awet rally.
“In the last couple of years there has been snow so I expect there to be some snow again. It is a great rally but it’s very stressful thinking about tyres and so on. Wedid a good test with the tyres, for meat the moment I have a very good feeling with them and howwe should use them in these conditions.” Monte Carlo will give a taste of the tyre choice tactics to come this year, with the FIA introducing a new ‘option’ tyre rule for 2012. Instead of the single-compound rules that compromised safety on some events last year and Rally Australia in particular, drivers will now be allowed the use of ten softer ‘option’ tyres on selected events. Latvala has backed the plan and is relishing the strategy that it will bring: “We have been missing the option of tyres so it’s a good idea to have the option tyre. It’s the best way to do it – I don’t want to go back to that situation that you can cut tyres. That doesn’t keep things the same for everybody.” ●Read Jari-Matti Latvala’s views on Mikko Hirvonen’s switch to Citroën, his new team-mate Petter Solberg and the delay in Ford committing to rallying in MN’s 2012 WRCseason preview in next week’s issue.
Latvala says he is ready to take the step up as the team leader
HOWTHE STATS ADD UP:LOEBVS LATVALA
110 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10
150 125 100 75 50 25
MIKKO HIRVONEN SETTLES IN AT CITROEN ON PAGE 14