14 Mar 08
Jari-Matti Latvala has made an astonishing start to the 2008 season. In his first three months as a works team driver with the BP-Ford squad the 22-year-old Finn has taken his first WRC win - and become the youngest driver ever to do so - and was on course for another on Rally Mexico before a broken turbo pipe meant he had to settle for third instead.
Ahead of Rally Argentina Latvala is six points off the lead of the drivers' championship and has been the biggest surprise of the season so far. In Mexico, defending champion Sebastien Loeb and Latvala's own Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen were two of the drivers wondering just how he was doing it.
In this exclusive two-part interview Jari-Matti talks to wrc.com about his incredible season so far and a few other things too.
Q: Are you surprised by what you've achieved so far this year or did you secretly always expect to go well?
"Well, I am surprised actually; both that I was able to win already this year in Sweden and also by my speed in Mexico. I knew that in Sweden we could do well, and maybe make the top three, but leading the rally all the way from the very start was more than I had expected. In Mexico I thought if we could be in the top five - or possibly the top three - that would be a good result, but once again we were leading after the first day."
Q: What was the single best thing about winning in Sweden?
"Winning the rally was such a huge moment, but the best part of it was to beat my idol Henri Toivonen's 1980 record as the youngest winner of a WRC rally. His record had stood for over 27 years and that felt like a very significant thing for me."
Q: When you look back to your WRC debut on Rally GB in 2002, how do you think you've changed as a person and as a driver?
"As a driver I have made quite a lot of changes to my style. In 2002 I drove with the 'old' style, spending a lot of time going sideways, doing Scandinavian flicks and things like that. It was very spectacular but it wasn't quick. After that I started to realise what I had to change to make myself quicker. I drove different cars like the Super 1600cc, Group N and lots of WRC cars and I started to learn the 'modern' way of rally driving where we almost take the same lines as a touring car; lots of straight lines, braking straight and then just turning - not flicking or throwing the car in too much. Of course in rallying you sometimes have to go sideways, and it's good for the spectators, but it must be naturally sideways, not because you've forced it that way. As far as my personal development goes, in 2002 I was very young and had no experience, only a lot of enthusiasm to try and go quick. At that time I didn't realise that I needed to collect more experience to take steps forward. I just tried to go quicker and of course we had some crashes. Those years taught me a lot."