LATVALA BACKS BRC RETURN
Vw-backed Finn believes Mid Wales is perfect start to 2016 British Rally Championship
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