RALLY MEX­ICO LAT­VALA

Jari-matti Lat­vala fi­nally de­feats his cham­pi­onship-lead­ing team-mate Se­bastien Ogier TAKES HIS MEX­I­CAN CHANCE

Motor Sport News - - Rally Mexico - BY DAVID EVANS STAGE TIMES

It’s not of­ten driv­ing out from the end of a stage you are flagged down by the rally leader. Jari-matti Lat­vala was out of his car and look­ing con­cerned. It was Sun­day morn­ing, the 50-mile Gua­na­ju­ato stage was in his rearview mir­ror and there was just the pow­er­stage re­main­ing. And he was start­ing that one with a minute in hand over ev­ery­body.

The be­spec­ta­cled Finn leaned into the car.

“I made a mis­take,” he said, in a typ­i­cally apolo­getic Lat­vala fash­ion. “When we got to the end of the long stage, the or­gan­is­ers were giv­ing out the T-shirts to the driv­ers and co-driv­ers. Mi­ikka [Ant­tila, co-driver] got one. I thought he had one for me as well, but I was wrong. Could you go back to the stop line and get me one, please?”

The T-shirt was OK, it was red and told the world that you had com­pleted the Gua­na­ju­ato stage. But it was just a T-shirt.

But that’s Jari-matti. That kind of thing means so much to him; he’s a rally fan first and a pro­fes­sional rally driver se­cond.

Last week in Mex­ico, he was the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional. And turned in one of his best ever per­for­mances. He was fastest pretty much ev­ery­where. Oddly, that wasn’t the point. In his po­si­tion, run­ning eighth on the road, the Finn was in the per­fect place on a sur­face swept clean of the loose gravel and giv­ing con­sid­er­ably more grip than the man at the front would be en­joy­ing. More of the man at the front later.

In all hon­esty, if Lat­vala hadn’t been quick­est, he should have been dis­missed on the spot.

Speed’s not an is­sue for Lat­vala, never has been – how could it be for a man un­beaten in Fin­land since 2013? Get­ting to the fin­ish of an event has been. Still is. Dare we say was? Not yet.

But Mex­ico was a ma­jor step for­ward. He took his time. He didn’t rush him­self. He didn’t snatch at sec­onds. He didn’t take risks. He knew the ad­van­tage was all his and he let it come to him in the kind of way that Se­bastien Loeb would have done.

Just over 30 sec­onds up on sec­ond­placed Se­bastien Ogier on Fri­day night, eye­brows were raised. Shouldn’t he have ex­pected more? There was no stress. He had an­other day in the per­fect place to come. Yes, Sun­day was all about 50 miles in one hit, but the ap­proach for the road there was a lit­tle more about catch­ing mon­keys: slowly, slowly.

Pre­dictably, Lat­vala had a full and de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion, not to men­tion the usual in­ter­est­ing back­story.

“I re­mem­ber,” he said, “when I was here in 2012 – the speed was amaz­ing. The first day I was at­tack­ing and lead­ing, then I hit the rock and we broke the sus­pen­sion arm. We man­aged to get to ser­vice, then we at­tacked some more. Next day we got the punc­ture and lost 30 sec­onds. And on the last day, still I tried to at­tack and I fi­nally I rolled!”

There’s a pause and a smile at the rec­ol­lec­tion.

“That,” he said, “was not good. But now, I think I am learn­ing. It’s com­ing more in­stinc­tively for me to slow down. I have to stay calm.”

He stayed per­fectly calm on the bak­ing stages last week.

Two thirds of the way through Sun­day’s Gua­na­ju­ato marathon, he be­gan to lose the brakes at the rear of his Volk­swa­gen Polo R WRC. Still, calm. He lost 25.3s to Ogier – pretty much what he’d planned and ex­pected to lose, with the sec­ond­placed win­ner of the first two rounds now right ahead of him on the road. Ev­ery­thing was un­der con­trol.

For the first time in Mex­ico and for the first time since Cor­sica last Oc­to­ber, Lat­vala and Ant­tila stepped onto the roof of their Polo and cel­e­brated.

“I feel I have turned a bit of a cor­ner here,” he said. “It’s not about 110 per cent all of the time.”

Hush: Was that the sound of a penny drop­ping?

“It’s so im­por­tant for me to take this win,” he added. “Now we have some­thing on the board for this year.”

He’s point­less no more.

SS1 Street Stage Gua­na­ju­ato (0.68 miles) Neuville 59.1s Leader

Bertelli +0.1s

Fastest

Se­cond

SS2 Su­per Spe­cial 1 (1.43 miles) Ogier 1m38.9s Leader

Neuville +0.9s

Fastest

Se­cond

SS3 Su­per Spe­cial 2 (1.43 miles) Ogier 1m38.1s Leader

Neuville +1.7s

Mex­ico wreaked ab­so­lute havoc on a WRC2 field al­ready short on en­tries – but in the end Finn Teemu Suni­nen emerged with his Skoda Fabia R5 in­tact and 20 min­utes ahead of his near­est ri­val. Suni­nen had kept his head while those around him lost theirs. Then came back the next day and lost them again.

His fel­low Skoda driver Ar­min Kre­mer led af­ter Thurs­day night’s three as­phalt stages, but the Ger­man’s ten­ure of the top spot was short­lived. He re­tired with sus­pen­sion prob­lems on Fri­day morn­ing. He re­turned on Satur­day, only to suf­fer the same fate.

An­other Fabia, Peru­vian Ni­co­las Fuchs hit the gravel run­ning on Fri­day morn­ing and moved to the front of the field, drop­ping out when he hit turbo and sus­pen­sion trou­ble. Fuchs’ Satur­day didn’t im­prove much when his gear­box re­fused to play ball on the way to the first stage. Af­ter half an hour of road­side re­pairs, he got it work­ing again and went on to set a hand­ful of fastest times through day two. He would fin­ish fourth – and the last of the crews to get to the end with­out hav­ing to re­turn to the rally.

Ab­du­laziz Al-kuwari made his first ap­pear­ance of the year with a new car (Fabia R5) and re­turn­ing co-driver (Kil­lian Duffy). Stop­ping to change two punc­tures on Fri­day kept them out of the run­ning, while rip­ping a wheel off on Satur­day ru­ined their week­end. As well as be­ing enor­mously frus­trat­ing.

Even­tu­ally Pol­ish driver Hu­bert Ptaszek took se­cond place, de­spite front dif­fer­en­tial prob­lems aboard his Peu­geot 208 T16 on Satur­day af­ter­noon. He had Max Ren­d­ina breath­ing down his neck, com­par­a­tively speak­ing, with just a 92-se­cond gap be­tween se­cond and third places go­ing into the fi­nal day.

As he had through­out the rally, Suni­nen drove per­fectly through the fi­nal day’s two stages. He said: “We didn’t want to take the risk, we drove in the middle of the road and it worked for us. It has been a tough event, re­ally tough, but we stayed out of trou­ble.”

Michel Fabre took his se­cond WRC3 win in as many ral­lies. Of course he did: for the se­cond event in a row, the French­man’s DS 3 R3T was the only en­try in the class.

TIME

4h25m57.4s +1m05.0s +5m36.4s +5m37.9s +6m22.6s +9m59.5s +12m58.5s +14m09.6s +18m01.8s +32m37.3s +44m39.2 +1h09m36.4s ac­ci­dent ac­ci­dent

Teemu Suni­nen was one of the only con­tenders not to hit trou­ble

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