Vw-backed Finn be­lieves Mid Wales is per­fect start to 2016 Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Jack Benyon

Fac­tory Volk­swa­gen World Rally driver Jari-matti Lat­vala has hailed the or­gan­is­ers of the Mid Wales Stages for us­ing what he de­scribes as “spec­tac­u­lar” stages for the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship’s re­turn.

The March 5/6 event will be­gin on Satur­day evening, with a 16-mile blast in the dark through Hafren/sweet Lamb, fol­lowed di­rectly by My­herin/pikes Peak. In to­tal, five of the six stages in­volved in the event were used on Rally GB four months ago, with Pikes Peak the only odd one out.

My­herin is known to be one of Lat­vala’s favourite stages in the world cham­pi­onship.

“You know how I feel about the My­herin stage,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s spe­cial, one of my favourites. It flows re­ally nicely. It’s quite wide with some re­ally in­ter­est­ing sec­tions. Of course the hair­pins at the start are quite spec­tac­u­lar and then you go to the sec­tion across the top by the wind­mills – this is very fast.”

One of the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship’s ti­tle favourites – Tom Cave – prefers the open­ing Hafren test to My­herin but shared Lat­vala’s sen­ti­ment for cred­it­ing the or­gan­is­ers with the use of some of the best stages in the coun­try.

“The or­gan­is­ers have prob­a­bly picked two of the best stages in world ral­ly­ing from Wales Rally GB, Hafren and My­herin,” said Cave. “Hafren has al­ways been my favourite stage. I can’t wait and to do those two stages to open the rally in the dark is go­ing to be awe­some. I’m bi­ased as it’s my home rally, it’s a fan­tas­tic way to start the cham­pi­onship. It’s been ea­gerly awaited for 18 months and hope­fully it will come off on Satur­day af­ter­noon, it’s cer­tainly a great place to start.

“My­herin is also ab­so­lutely awe­some to drive, it’s re­ally open, very smooth and the con­di­tions are al­ways good through there, you can at­tack that stage re­ally hard. It’s the clos­est we get to Fin­land in Wales to be hon­est, fast, flow­ing and loads of crests. I know Jari-matti Lat­vala has sin­gled that stage out be­fore and it’s easy to see why.”

Lat­vala com­peted in the BRC full-time in 2003, win­ning the last event he en­tered in the cham­pi­onship on the Tem­pest Rally. The Finn un­der­stands the im­por­tance of the BRC in both Bri­tish and world ral­ly­ing con­text.

“Be­cause I started my ca­reer in Bri­tain, I have al­ways kept in touch with what’s go­ing on there,” said Lat­vala. “I knew the BRC had stopped – but it seems it’s back with a good con­cept now.

“In the Seven­ties, Eight­ies and Nineties, the pro­gres­sion for the Fin­nish driver was Fin­nish Cham­pi­onship, Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship, World Rally Cham­pi­onship. It [the BRC] was so im­por­tant be­fore and I’m sure it can be again.

“The thing about the BRC is that you have such a good place to learn ev­ery­thing. I re­mem­ber the first time I did the Scot­tish Rally, I was think­ing: ‘I am a Finn, I know about fast roads…’ But the roads north of Dum­fries were even faster than in Fin­land, it was amaz­ing. The roads are spe­cial on your is­land. You can learn so much from them and that’s what makes the BRC so im­por­tant. Be­fore, it was the most im­por­tant na­tional cham­pi­onship.”

The Finn still re­mem­bers his fiercest com­peti­tors in the BRC, in what was a mem­o­rable pe­riod for the driver from Toysa.

“The year I did it, I was in a Ford Fo­cus RS WRC with some back­ing from M-sport, but there were guys like Jonny Mil­ner, Ta­pio [Laukka­nen] and James Thomp­son in a Group A Mit­subishi – it was al­ways a big fight,” he added. “And then we got to the as­phalt rounds and we came up against An­drew Nes­bitt and Derek Mcgar­rity, the com­pe­ti­tion was good on ev­ery round.”

Lead­ing driv­ers from the his­tory of the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship have backed up Lat­vala’s views, with Alis­ter Mcrae and Mark Hig­gins among the cham­pi­onship’s lat­est fans.

“The Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship has al­ways been re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant,” ex­plained 1995 BRC cham­pion Mcrae, who lives in Aus­tralia. “When I look back to be­ing 13 or 14 years old, prob­a­bly even younger than that, I was watch­ing dad [Jimmy] com­pete against Ari [Vata­nen] with Henri Toivo­nen and Hannu Mikkola there as well. Th­ese guys would all go on to be world cham­pi­ons.

“I’ll be watch­ing the BRC again this year. I’ve got all up-to-date now and I get MN on my ipad. It’s great to see th­ese signs of resur­gence. It looks like the or­gan­is­ers have got it right with the right roads and the iconic events like the Scot­tish, Manx and Cir­cuit. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to ral­ly­ing that we have a strong BRC – it meant a huge amount to me to win the cham­pi­onship, it was very good for my ca­reer.”

Three-time cham­pion Hig­gins reck­ons the BRC can and needs to re­turn to it’s old man­tle of a step­ping stone on the lad­der to the world cham­pi­onship.

“The BRC was a step­ping stone to the world cham­pi­onship and I’m sure it will be again,” said the 1997, 2005 and ’06 cham­pion Hig­gins. “The BRC has many at­tributes, but things like the chance to do a two-pass recce on gravel and Tar­mac teaches young driv­ers so much about the sport.

“Those ral­lies teach you a thing or two as well; Elfyn’s pace in Cor­sica last year; that kind of pace in such change­able lev­els of grip was straight out of the Manx or the Ul­ster or some such event. The BRC’S a great ground­ing and it’s go­ing to be great, with some re­ally good cars out there. We’re go­ing to end up with a wor­thy win­ner at the end of the sea­son.” Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by

David Evans

Lat­vala counts My­herin among favourite rally stages

Cave will com­pete in 2016

Lat­vala had M-sport sup­port for BRC in 2003

Alis­ter (r) had suc­cess­ful years in the BRC with father Jimmy and brother Colin

Mark Hig­gins was the 2005 Bri­tish Rally cham­pion and backs re­formed se­ries

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