VW boss says road po­si­tion will de­cide re­sults again

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

Kris Meeke will win Rally Fin­land, that’s Volk­swa­gen Motorsport di­rec­tor Jost Capito’s em­phatic be­lief about this week’s round of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship.

Capito says the North­ern Ir­ish­man’s po­si­tion run­ning fur­ther back on the road will be enough to cat­a­pult him into an un­beat­able po­si­tion on the sea­son’s fastest rally.

Capito told MN: “It’s clear, if Kris does no ma­jor mis­take, he wins Fin­land. There’s no doubt about that. No­body else will stand a chance. This is clear al­ready and now we can all see that this is clear.

“It’s not just dif­fi­cult for [Se­bastien] Ogier to fight for the win, it’s im­pos­si­ble now for Ogier to fight for the win. Take away Poland and look at the last ral­lies – not one of the top five in the cham­pi­onship had the chance to win the rally. Peo­ple un­der­stand now that this is wrong.”

Even though Meeke won Rally Por­tu­gal, be­cause of his part­pro­gramme for this sea­son the Abu Dhabi To­tal World Rally Team driver hasn’t col­lected enough points to el­e­vate him higher than ninth in the stand­ings. He will, how­ever, start eighth on the road be­cause of Dani Sordo be­ing ruled out by in­jury. The Spa­niard’s Hyundai will be driven by Kevin Ab­bring, who is 22nd in the cham­pi­onship stand­ings.

Meeke was hav­ing none of Capito’s pre­dic­tions about him mak­ing his­tory by be­com­ing the first Bri­tish driver ever to win in Fin­land.

“That’s bull,” he said. “Fin­land’s noth­ing like Por­tu­gal, or Sar­dinia or Poland. Even if it’s bone dry this week, there are only a few places where it’ll be more tricky [to be first on the road]. The weather here has been wet in the run-up to the event, there’s been rain pretty much ev­ery day and there’s no doubt run­ning first on the road will be no dis­ad­van­tage at all this week. In fact, it’s quite pos­si­ble it might be an ad­van­tage.

“It’s nice that Jost is say­ing that, nice to be re­mem­bered when I’m away and not com­pet­ing on th­ese ral­lies – it’s bet­ter than him say­ing: ‘Meeke’s rub­bish and he’s no chance,’ but we can see this for what it is: mind games. Maybe he’s try­ing to pro­voke me a lit­tle bit…”

Meeke hasn’t driven a DS 3 WRC com­pet­i­tively since scor­ing his sec­ond ever world cham­pi­onship win in Por­tu­gal two months ago and, while he has run right at the sharp end of Rally Fin­land for the last three years, he says win­ning is not a pri­or­ity this week.

“I would have to re­ally stick my neck out to be on the pace in Fin­land,” he said, “and that’s not what this rally is about for me. I had to do that last year, I had to set those times to try and get the longterm deal that I wanted. When it was dry, I was able to match the Volk­swa­gens and then they would pluck two or three [sec­onds] from me, but then I ran a wee bit wide when it started to rain and that fin­ished it.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be try­ing – I love Fin­land and it’s a fan­tas­tic place to drive a rally car, but I’ve noth­ing to prove. The pri­or­ity for me is to get my head down, more ex­pe­ri­ence of the roads, keep work­ing with the car and get my­self in the best pos­si­ble shape to come back. There will be more chances to win in Fin­land.”

The Jy­vaskyla-based rally is the one where Meeke has the most ex­pe­ri­ence (he’s done it eight times be­fore – the same as Spain and Rally GB) and it will be his fourth year straight in a DS 3 WRC.

It was this event in 2013 where Meeke re­ally set his stall out with an out­stand­ing drive to run fifth on his de­but in the DS 3 be­fore crash­ing in Oun­in­po­hja. He fin­ished third a year later and slid off in the Juko­jarvi stage after lead­ing early on last year.

It’s Rally Fin­land time, so it must be time to wheel out the Lat­vala’s last chance line… And it is. Ex­cept it isn’t. What’s go­ing to hap­pen if Lat­vala doesn’t win at home on Sun­day? I’ll tell you what: ab­so­lutely noth­ing. His deal’s done with Volk­swa­gen for next sea­son, so fin­ish­ing sec­ond or third won’t have an ad­verse im­pact on his seat in a 2017 Polo.

What it will do, though, is knock Lat­vala’s self-be­lief and self-con­fi­dence. The su­per­friendly Finn has been taken to the cleaners by the nerve, nous and raw speed of his team-mate Se­bastien Ogier.

While he’s clung to the French­man’s coat­tails around the world, when it came to Fin­land and Lat­vala’s beloved back­yard, the Finn came out on top. And then some: his dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion and mind-blow­ing ef­fort to beat Ogier on the stages and in his head two years ago was one of the J-ML’S best ever drives. Last year was more of the same. And it’s those vic­to­ries that have al­lowed Lat­vala to hold his head high. Ev­ery­body knows what a 1,000 Lakes win means. All the driv­ers want the cham­pi­onship and vic­tory at home, but after that it’s Fin­land – this is still the one that splits the men from the boys. The top step of the podium re­mains the pre­serve of the chap sport­ing the largest set of gen­tle­man’s veg­eta­bles.

A hat-trick (and fourth Fin­land win in to­tal) would doubt­less in­spire Lat­vala with con­fi­dence for the sec­ond half of the sea­son, as we’ve seen be­fore. But at some stage, it would be nice to see him go­ing home as cham­pi­onship leader. Or at least in the same ball­park, points-wise as Ogier – that way the French­man would be forced to put ti­tle talk out of his mind com­pletely and drive with the free­dom of a real race.

Not that he stands any chance this time around, ac­cord­ing to his boss.

Ad­mit­tedly, talk of run­ning or­der will abound, but we shouldn’t let that de­tract in any way from what a win­ner achieves this week. If it stays dry, Kris Meeke will likely have pre­mium grip – but th­ese boys still have to drive the car. The dif­fer­ence be­tween first on the road and 15th will be far less marked than on most gravel ral­lies and who­ever wants to top the podium will still have to pull top and sit on the rev lim­iter longer than any­body. Not easy any­where, but a par­tic­u­larly test­ing task in Fin­land.

And the great thing about this week is that it doesn’t just show the fron­trun­ners’ met­tle, the win­ner of WRC2, DDFT and Ju­niors will have to take them­selves out­side of their com­fort zone if they want to bag the big points.

If there are any big points worth hav­ing this sea­son, it’s the ones on of­fer in Jy­vaskyla on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Time for the brave pill.

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

Meeke took his sec­ond WRC win in Por­tu­gal

Capito and Meeke dis­agree over where Ogier will fin­ish

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