Latvala boosted by battle with Loeb
|By Matt Beer||Sunday, December 7th 2008, 16:44 GMT|
Jari-Matti Latvala believes he will emerge a better driver for his last-gasp defeat by Sebastien Loeb in the Wales Rally GB.
The Ford driver led much of the event under pressure from Loeb in icy conditions in Britain, before the world champion edged ahead in the final loop.
Loeb appeared to have taken the lead with one stage to go, only for the officials to throw Latvala a lifeline when they awarded Loeb a jump start penalty, putting him back into second place.
However the Citroen driver's pace in the final stage was too great for Latvala, as Loeb swept back into the lead and clinched victory. The penalty would latter be cancelled, boosting his winning margin from 2.7 to 12.7 seconds.
Latvala said that the experience of his huge battle with Loeb would make him stronger next season - but also showed that he needs to improve in order to challenge the five-time champion for the title in the future.
"I couldn't have driven that final stage any quicker," said Latvala.
"I told myself I would be either first or second, and not waiting in the forest for a trailer to come and collect the wreckage.
"I'm disappointed but this is my best finish in Britain and the battle has made me mentally stronger. I now feel ready to start next season and fight for the title.
"I need to be better than the best because it's the winner who is remembered, not the driver who finishes second."
Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson said Latvala had nothing to be ashamed of, and believes the Rally GB will prove to be a pivotal event for the young Finn.
"It was an incredible performance by Jari-Matti against a five-time world champion," said Wilson.
"He was under severe pressure and he's made a big step in his career path with a performance that is good for his confidence."
Latvala's teammate Mikko Hirvonen was Loeb's closest rival this year, and set a new record by finishing every round of the championship in the points. He also expects to mount a stronger challenge in 2009.
"To claim this scoring record is a great achievement and I want to move into next year and challenge for the title again," said Hirvonen. "I feel stronger after this season and more ready to fight for the world title again."