LAT­VALA MUST STRIKE BACK IN SWE­DEN

WARM SWE­DEN PRO­VIDES CREWS WITH TOUGH TEST WRC PRE­VIEW

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

Ask any driver about the feel­ing for driv­ing in Swe­den and you’ll get the same re­ply. No words. Just a grin. A very big grin.

As the World Rally Cham­pi­onship de­scends on Karl­stad, hopes of go­ing a gear higher and lean­ing on the snow­banks melt away. The ab­sence of win­ter in the Varm­land – trans­lated lit­er­ally as the warm land – means a com­plete re­think on the way this event is tack­led.

“When the con­di­tions are not so good, it’s a dif­fer­ent rally,” said Jari-matti Lat­vala, a driver who knows all about suc­cess in this part of the world – only Stig Blomqvist and Mar­cus Gron­holm have won it more times than he has.

“I tested for this event in Are, in the north of Swe­den and we had re­ally good con­di­tions. Per­fect con­di­tions for the rally, we have a lot of snow and good ice. But when we are com­ing south to Karl­stad, we have to re­mem­ber that the roads are very dif­fer­ent this week and this will change the way we set the car up.”

When win­ter’s in town, the av­er­age World Rally Car will run a stiff, ra­zor­sharp set-up of­fer­ing pin­point ac­cu­racy on turn-in. It’s all change when it warms up.

“You have to run the car much softer,” Lat­vala told MN. “You will have a lot of slush around and the car will be jump­ing in and out of the ruts, you can’t get the con­fi­dence or the trac­tion if the car is too stiff. This was al­ways in the back of the mind when we were test­ing at the week­end.”

It’s not just the set-up of the hard­ware which needs a re­boot, ei­ther. The ap­proach to the stages is dif­fer­ent in the ab­sence of snow.

“The snow­banks do let you go into the cor­ner harder and faster,” said Lat­vala, “and the feel­ing is re­ally nice when you can lean the car on the bank on the exit – all of the time you know you are tak­ing more speed than you could nor­mally. The mind­set when the snow­bank is there is re­ally dif­fer­ent. But you al­ways have to be care­ful that the snow­bank doesn’t col­lapse and pull the car in.” Not much chance of that this week… “Some­times, a lot of snow can ac­tu­ally make the road slower,” Lat­vala added. “If you are clear­ing a lot of snow from the sur­face then that can make it dif­fi­cult to find grip, but also the snow­banks – when they are big – they can al­ter the na­ture of the cor­ner and make the road a lit­tle bit more nar­row, which also slows you down.

“When you don’t have the snow, but you do have ice, then the speed is def­i­nitely higher. The se­cond run at some of th­ese stages will be quite tough this week, but when we have patchy ice and gravel, the truth is that we will get some of the best grip ever from the stud­ded tyres. The only trou­ble is that this grip will only last for 12 miles and then all of the studs will be out of the tyre and you only have rubber. This is OK when you are in the soft gravel, but when you do come to a patch of ice un­der brak­ing for a cor­ner, it can be so hard to get it stopped and turned in.”

Not even snow flur­ries will help, ei­ther, ac­cord­ing to Lat­vala.

“The trou­ble with a lit­tle bit of snow is that it cov­ers things at the side of the road,” he said. “So you go to make the cut in the cor­ner and you find a rock has been cov­ered by snow. When the con­di­tion is like this, you have to be so care­ful – you just have to keep the car in the middle of the road; don’t slide wide be­cause you can hit the rock on the out­side as well. I re­mem­ber in 2005, we had con­di­tions like this and we had a lot of punc­tures and sus­pen­sion dam­age on a lot of the top cars.”

The Volk­swa­gen-driv­ing Finn will need to put all of the above into prac­tice this week, if he’s to avoid hand­ing his se­ries-lead­ing, ti­tle-de­fend­ing team-mate Se­bastien Ogier an even big­ger ad­van­tage.

“I know I need a re­sult in Swe­den,” said Lat­vala. “The one thing which not scor­ing points in Monte Carlo should have done is give me a bet­ter po­si­tion on the road in Swe­den this week. I’m not sure that will hap­pen. If the weather stays as it is, then the road could get worse the fur­ther down the or­der you start.”

Lat­vala was enor­mously frus­trated by this event last year, hav­ing won it the year be­fore.

“I couldn’t get com­fort­able with the 2015 car in Swe­den,” he said. “I made some changes and was much hap­pier on the fi­nal day, but by then I had al­ready gone off the road. I couldn’t get the car how I wanted it in Mex­ico or Ar­gentina ei­ther, it was only when I got to Por­tu­gal that it re­ally worked for me. Now, I know I am com­fort­able in the car and I can take a lot of con­fi­dence from that this week.”

Big coat or no coat? Win­ter boots or flipflops? In be­tween typ­ing th­ese words, th­ese are ques­tions I’m faced ahead of this week’s big trip north to Swe­den and Nor­way.

The world of twit­ter and so­cial me­dia made for a pretty mis­er­able place last week­end as more and more pic­tures of sod­den, snow-free stages found their way into cy­berspace, seem­ingly con­demn­ing the Swedish or­gan­is­ers for not be­ing able to turn the tem­per­a­ture down…

At the mo­ment, that tem­per­a­ture could still tum­ble mid-week giv­ing the deep-freeze needed to de­liver solid and sus­tain­able ice for the week­end. If that doesn’t hap­pen, there’s re­ally not much ap­petite for the re­vised itin­er­ary on of­fer right now.

If the con­di­tions don’t im­prove and the event does run, it’ll be a mud bath and an em­bar­rass­ing one at that. That’s all bad enough for the or­gan­is­ers and the com­peti­tors, but the wider im­pli­ca­tion comes via WRC Pro­moter – how can Oliver Ciesla sell a snow rally with no snow?

The age-old tag line of the WRC tak­ing crews from the depths of a frozen Scan­di­na­vian win­ter to the blis­ter­ing heat of a Sar­dinian sum­mer won’t re­ally cut it this year. Not when it’s colder in Lon­don than the ser­vice park in Karl­stad. And, right now, it’s pretty warm in Lon­don.

Just be­fore we turn our guns on the Swedish or­gan­is­ers, full of sym­pa­thy for the pro­moter and a po­ten­tially less than sat­is­fac­tory of­fer­ing to Chan­nel 5, let’s give some con­sid­er­a­tion to the eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions for the rally it­self. A sig­nif­i­cant chunk of money has al­ready been laid out im­ple­ment­ing the in­fra­struc­ture of the event and call­ing it off will hit an al­ready hard-up bunch very, very hard. Can­celling the rally could send the or­gan­is­ers un­der, while run­ning it would mean a crip­pling re­pair bill for the roads and could give the same even­tual out­come.

I sus­pect rally boss Glen Ols­son tired years ago of the help­ful sug­ges­tion of tak­ing the rally north. That’s been con­sid­ered, but Ols­son says it’s too pricey and still not snow-sure.

I can con­firm the pricey bit. With­out be­ing too much of a name-drop­per, I went for a beer in Are with Car­los Sainz and Car­los Sainz Jr while we were all rac­ing around frozen lakes in Richard Tuthill’s Porsches. It was eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive, but very swish and very cool. Freez­ing, in fact.

There’s plenty of sym­pa­thy on of­fer this week, but while the or­gan­is­ers and pro­mot­ers way up the pros and po­ten­tial costs, let’s spare a thought for Craig Breen.

The Ir­ish­man stands on the verge of re­al­is­ing his life­long dream of driv­ing a World Rally Cham­pi­onship round for a front­line works team. He’s got the keys, but they could still be taken off him.

Like all of his WRC col­leagues, Breen and his co-driver Scott Martin are sit­ting in a ho­tel room wait­ing to find out if they’ll go to work this week.

The up­side for Craig is that he’ll get an­other go. Ques­tion is: will Rally Swe­den?

Vic­tory on Satur­day’s Finnskog Rally has helped put Mads Ost­berg in the best pos­si­ble po­si­tion to chal­lenge for his first Rally Swe­den suc­cess this week, ac­cord­ing to the Nor­we­gian.

Ost­berg dom­i­nated the Nor­we­gian cham­pi­onship round in an Adapta Team Ford Fi­esta R5. He now equals Hen­ning Sol­berg’s record of four Finnskog wins.

Most im­por­tantly to Ost­berg was how his re­la­tion­ship de­vel­oped with new co-driver Ola Floene. Ost­berg strug­gled with a change of lan­guage (from Swedish to Nor­we­gian) and note de­liv­ery on the open­ing round in Monte Carlo, but he said it worked well on Satur­day.

“It’s al­ways fun to race in Nor­way,” he said. “It’s fun to stand as the most win­ning driver on the big­gest event in Nor­way. But, most im­por­tantly, this

Lat­vala prefers more snow in Swe­den Finn has plenty of Swe­den wins Lat­vala will have to bounce back from Monte strug­gle

Ost­berg and Floene took win

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