M-Sport youngster Jari-Matti Latvala is thrilled with his fourth place at this weekend's AnswerCall Direct Ulster Rally in Northern Ireland, having delighted spectators with a exhilarating performance behind the wheel of his Ford Focus RS WRC on...
M-Sport youngster Jari-Matti Latvala is thrilled with his fourth place at this weekend's AnswerCall Direct Ulster Rally in Northern Ireland, having delighted spectators with a exhilarating performance behind the wheel of his Ford Focus RS WRC on the unique bumpy tarmac roads. The 18-year old Finn was hardly ever out of the top three all weekend and was on target for a podium place when he spun on the penultimate stage, the resulting time loss dropping him to fourth overall.
"Of course I'm disappointed not to be on the podium when it was so close, but realistically I could not have hoped for a better Irish debut! The Focus has performed faultlessly all weekend and our suspension set-up, tested and developed in Ireland over the past few years, has shown not only its worth, but proves that the Focus is an excellent rally car for these conditions. Following our performance on the past two tarmac events, it's been great to get to the finish line -- and to finish so far up the leaderboard is simply the icing on the cake," he said.
The 18-year old Finn has shown his future potential in the sport, consistently running in the top four fastest stage times throughout most of the rally.
The battle between Latvala and the three leading British Championship contenders, Jonny Milner, eventual winner Tapio Laukkanen and Andrew Nesbitt, started in Leg One where competitors were faced with two loops of three stages just outside the city of Armagh. Local Irish entrants Austin McHale and Derek McGarrity were also strong throughout, the six drivers juggling for top times on the run through each stage.
Despite having never driven on the unique Irish roads before, Latvala quickly moved from 6th to 3rd overall during leg one. Leg Two, with a loop of ten stages including the spectacular Barnes Gap near Gortin, saw the youngster move up to second overall for the majority of the day and also setting a fastest time on SS15 Butterlope 2.
"The six of us have had an excellent fight all weekend, and I was sorry to see the rally leader Andrew Nesbitt go off in SS8. On stage 13, local Derek McGarrity slipped past me dropping me to third overall but I managed to close the gap between us to just 2.2seconds, with championship leader Jonny Milner half a minute behind me going into the final stage," he said.
The final stage was to prove to be the most thrilling of the entire rally, with McGarrity spinning on the final corner of the stage, dropping 25 seconds. However the luck of the Irish was to stay with McGarrity, as Latvala, his sights firmly set on second place spun at exactly the same place.
"I couldn't believe it -- the last corner of the rally! Unfortunately for us we ended up nose first into a bank and I stalled the car twice while trying to get back on the road and eventually lost 60 seconds, handing the final place on the podium to championship leader Jonny Milner. But although I'm disappointed, I still couldn't be happier. Not only have we finished, we've had a strong finish. I thoroughly enjoyed our battle for second today and it was a silly mistake on my part that cost me a place on the podium," he said.
M-Sport Director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with Latvala's performance. "He has done an excellent job all weekend and has in fact surprised even me with some of his times. He went there to finish the rally and has done just that and I couldn't have asked for a better performance from someone who has never experienced the Irish tarmac conditions before," he said.
The young Finn has a busy week ahead and is looking forward to Wednesday when he will get behind the wheel of the Ford Focus RS WRC03 for the first time at a private UK based test.
"My colleagues, Ford BP Rallye Sports' Markko Martin and Francois Duval, are on their way back from the Rally Australia, therefore I have been asked if I will drive for the world team test this week. How could I refuse an offer like that!!! The only down side is I must go home to Finland for one day first as I have an exam at school!" he said.
Jari-Matti Latvala's next outing in his Ford Focus RS WRC for the Pirelli British Rally Championship will be at the Trackrod Rally, Yorkshire, on September 27th & 28th.