Finn says VW stint prompted some soul search­ing

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Jari-matti Lat­vala has ad­mit­ted his time at Volkswagen Mo­tor­sport came close to ru­in­ing his ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional rally driver.

The Finn slumped to his worst ever fin­ish as a pro­fes­sional driver with sixth place in last year’s WRC stand­ings, but he finds no fault with the Ger­man man­u­fac­turer. In a forth­right and in­sight­ful in­ter­view with Mo­tor­sport News he lays bare the prob­lems he suf­fered as Se­bastien Ogier’s team-mate.

Lat­vala, who re­cently kick-started his ca­reer as a Toy­ota driver with se­cond place on the sea­son-open­ing Monte Carlo Rally, worked along­side Ogier for four sea­sons and won nine ral­lies from 52 starts in a fac­tory Polo R WRC. By com­par­i­son, the French­man took four-straight driv­ers’ ti­tles (Lat­vala was se­cond twice, third and sixth last sea­son) and won 23 world ral­lies with VW.

Lat­vala said: “Ev­ery­thing went wrong and it was a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion at Volkswagen. I didn’t win [the ti­tle] be­cause I tried to drive like Se­bastien. I was so con­fused in my driv­ing, I was try­ing to do ev­ery­thing like him all of the time. I was look­ing at the data from my en­gi­neers and look­ing at how he was us­ing the brakes – I tried to change ev­ery­thing and do the same. I even had brake sup­port un­der the ped­als like he had. I was try­ing ev­ery­thing.

“At the end of last year, I was so con­fused, ev­ery­thing was so dif­fi­cult. I just didn’t know, I was ask­ing: ‘How should I drive?’ I was go­ing over ev­ery­thing. I had tried to copy ev­ery­thing Seb was do­ing and this is why, when I was in Volkswagen, I had no chance. I couldn’t con­cen­trate on the job I was sup­posed to be do­ing be­cause all of the time I was look­ing at what he was do­ing. I for­got about my own driv­ing style and I to­tally fo­cused on do­ing the same as him.”

Lat­vala ar­rived at Volkswagen af­ter five sea­sons as a Ford driver, four of which with his coun­try­man Mikko Hir­vo­nen along­side him. Hav­ing en­joyed the fam­ily at­mos­phere of M-sport’s squad, he strug­gled to ac­cli­ma­tise to life along­side such a sin­gle-minded in­di­vid­ual as Ogier.

Lat­vala missed the team ap­proach he and Hir­vo­nen had en­gen­dered in the fight against the all-con­quer­ing Citroen and Se­bastien Loeb com­bi­na­tion.

“When I was at Ford,” Lat­vala ex­plained, “Se­bastien Loeb was so dom­i­nant. Mikko and I had to work to­gether to try to beat him, we couldn’t do it on our own.

“When I went to Volkswagen, it was dif­fer­ent. There was no­body there to help me try to beat this new Se­bastien. When you are in the same team as a four-time world cham­pion, you are alone and I had to fight against him in a dif­fer­ent way with a dif­fer­ent phi­los­o­phy.”

Since de­part­ing Volkswagen, Lat­vala says he has rekin­dled that team ap­proach at Toy­ota with coun­try­man Juho Han­ni­nen.

“I feel the same now as when I was at Ford,” said Lat­vala. “Juho and I are work­ing to­gether to win, it’s dif­fer­ent now.”

Prior to its de­par­ture from the world championship at the end of last sea­son, Volkswagen prided it­self on an open ap­proach, with for­mer team prin­ci­pal Jost Capito say­ing: “There are no se­crets in this team, every­body, all of the driv­ers, they all have the same ac­cess to data for the set-up of the car. The only thing we don’t talk about is their tyre choice, but oth­er­wise, we have no team or­ders and noth­ing hid­den.”

Lat­vala’s deal to drive for the Fin­nish-based Toy­ota team was seen by many in the ser­vice park as a ca­reer saver and, so far, the 31-year-old looks as com­fort­able in Tommi Maki­nen’s squad as he did at M-sport.

Next week’s Rally Swe­den will pro­vide a stern test for the new Lat­vala-toy­ota re­la­tion­ship, with J-ML – a three-time win­ner of the event – fa­mously com­fort­able on the Varm­land roads.

Lat­vala (above, left) has found a new lease of life, and con­fi­dence, with Toy­ota

Lat­vala lost his way with VW team

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