VW FEARS MEEKE ON RALLY FINLAND
VW boss says road position will decide results again
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.
Meeke took his second WRC win in Portugal
Capito and Meeke disagree over where Ogier will finish