2 JANUARY 11 2012 motorsport-news.co.uk
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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.
“Monte Carlo is Seb Loeb’s