What Jari-Matti Latvala must do to beat Sebastien Ogier in the WRC

Jari-Matti Latvala heads into Rally Sardinia having defeated World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier in Portugal. But is it another false dawn for the Finn? DAVID EVANS looks at the evidence

What Jari-Matti Latvala must do to beat Sebastien Ogier in the WRC

A couple of days before the start of last month's Rally of Portugal Jari-Matti Latvala described Sebastien Ogier as a piano player.

It was an entirely complimentary analogy relating to the Frenchman's finesse and ability to keep the car on the clean longer and faster than he could.

But could Latvala himself 'play the piano' with his own driving?

"No, no," he smiled. "For me, it's more: 'Bang, bang, now we go!' And if the rear's not following then it's difficult."

Could he learn the piano? Latvala pondered the question, then leaned in.

"Now, I can tell you the story," he said.

"I thought about changing the style. But it was Henning Solberg who told me this wasn't a good idea. He said: 'Jari, you have been driving for too long now, you cannot change the style. Change the car.' He was right."

Suspension and differential work has given the Polo more grip at the rear, building in the kind of progressive predictability that Latvala likes and thrives on.

"I feel comfortable with the car now," he said.

So, what do we make of Latvala's latest win? Breakthrough or false dawn?

The breakthrough was supposed to have come in Finland last year, when he did a real number on Ogier, scoring a 1000 Lakes victory worthy of any one of the heroic countrymen he reveres so readily.

Latvala's natural ability to drive a rally car is now beyond question. He's absolutely as fast as anybody else in the world right now - Ogier included.

It's the peripheral stuff that must remain under the microscope.

He still needs the arm around him to bring the best out of him.

On the crucial long stage on Sunday in Portugal, he thrived on the encouragement of his co-driver Miikka Anttila a handful of miles into the test.

It's hard to imagine Julien Ingrassia telling Ogier how well he was doing between calling notes to the two-time world champion.

That doesn't make Latvala a worse driver, but such reliance on outsiders inevitably makes him more vulnerable. Would he still have won if Anttila hadn't had time for praise?

Ogier was simply brilliant through the first two days in Portugal, playing himself into a potentially winning position in the most difficult of circumstances. Ogier described Sunday as a new rally running on equal terms. The playing field had been levelled. And Latvala won.

With the job all-but done, Ogier expected to win. And when he didn't, his frustration got the better of him. He let rip, complaining bitterly that the best driver hadn't been allowed to win.

In his opinion, and for the avoidance of doubt, the best driver is himself.

The comments were breathtaking. Question was: would they be raised in front of Latvala in the post-event press conference?

Oh yes... by Ogier himself.

"I said at the end of the stage that it was frustrating that the best driver is not winning this weekend," he said. "I say that, but I need also to say this is not the fault of Jari - it's the fault of the rules. It's like that.

"He did the job he had to do to do it. And, especially today, he drove as fast as he could to keep me behind and he did it well."

There you go.

Deal with it. I'm better. You want to beat me? You're going to have to beat the best of the best; take a shot. Dare you...

Latvala will take that shot in Sardinia this weekend.

Follow Rally Sardinia as it happens - plus the Barcelona MotoGP weekend, Toronto IndyCar, Hungaroring Formula Renault 3.5 and more - with AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live from 7am UK time on Friday

shares
comments
Wales Rally GB reveals 2015 World Rally Championship finale route
Previous article

Wales Rally GB reveals 2015 World Rally Championship finale route

Next article

WRC Italy: Meeke tells Ogier to complain less and be more like Loeb

WRC Italy: Meeke tells Ogier to complain less and be more like Loeb
Why Monte Carlo success could spark another past master’s WRC revival Plus

Why Monte Carlo success could spark another past master’s WRC revival

Some 39 years on from his Monte Carlo Rally debut, World Rally Championship legend Francois Delecour continues to pick up silverware. Proving that age is purely a number, the 60-year-old's desire to compete against the WRC’s latest young talents could be the start of a new chapter in the Frenchman’s storied career

WRC
Jan 31, 2023
How fired-up Ogier became the WRC's ultimate Monte master Plus

How fired-up Ogier became the WRC's ultimate Monte master

He may only be contesting a part-time campaign in the World Rally Championship these days, but Sebastien Ogier underlined that he's lost none of his speed in the 2023 season opener. Storming to yet another victory on the Monte Carlo Rally, the eight-time world champion rewrote the history books again as Toyota served notice of its intentions with a crushing 1-2

WRC
Jan 23, 2023
How Lancia pulled off its famous Monte Carlo giantkilling Plus

How Lancia pulled off its famous Monte Carlo giantkilling

Audi should have been invincible in the snowy conditions that typically greeted the World Rally Championship paddock in Monte Carlo. But unexpectedly warm weather for the 1983 season opener, combined with some left-field thinking from the Lancia crew turned the tables. Forty years on, team boss Cesare Fiorio reflects on a smash and grab

WRC
Jan 21, 2023
Why M-Sport has pinned all its efforts on a WRC reunion Plus

Why M-Sport has pinned all its efforts on a WRC reunion

M-Sport had a disastrous 2022 with its Rally1 Ford Pumas following Sebastien Loeb’s first-time-out win on the Monte. But now things are looking up with 2019 world champion Ott Tanak leading its attack, and the Cumbrian operation has optimism that it can challenge for a first title since Sebastien Ogier's departure at the end of 2018

WRC
Jan 19, 2023
The contenders seeking to take Rovanpera's WRC crown Plus

The contenders seeking to take Rovanpera's WRC crown

As Kalle Rovanpera begins his World Rally Championship title defence in Monte Carlo, the Finn knows he has a target on his back. But who is best placed to knock the Toyota ace off his perch?

WRC
Jan 19, 2023
Why Rovanpera is anticipating a fight to defend his WRC title Plus

Why Rovanpera is anticipating a fight to defend his WRC title

Question: what could be harder than becoming the youngest-ever World Rally champion? Answer: becoming the youngest-ever two-time World Rally champion. That's quite the challenge facing Toyota's Kalle Rovanpera in 2022, particularly against rejuvenated opposition in the second year of the WRC's hybrid regulations

WRC
Jan 18, 2023
From F1 to WRC: Why Hyundai's new boss could be an inspired signing Plus

From F1 to WRC: Why Hyundai's new boss could be an inspired signing

OPINION: New Hyundai WRC team boss Cyril Abiteboul admits he’s got a lot to learn as he leads the marque's efforts to dethrone Toyota. But could his Formula 1 experience and evident strengths mean he turns out to be an inspired choice?

WRC
Jan 18, 2023
The ultimate rally car project the WRC is glad COVID killed Plus

The ultimate rally car project the WRC is glad COVID killed

Toyota was unstoppable in the 2021 World Rally Championship, with an excellent 75% strike rate from 12 rallies. But in a scary proposition for its rivals, the Japanese marque had built a car for the final year of the previous regulations set which it believes was much faster and could feasibly have crushed the opposition completely. Here the story of its mothballed world-beater

WRC
Jan 1, 2023