Sebastien Ogier may lead the championship heading into the fourth round, but as the action shifts to the gravel roads of Portugal we think his Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala could have the edge. Here’s why:
1: The best road position
If it’s dry, the loose gravel stages of Rally de Portugal make life extremely difficult for the first driver through. And in Portugal, that means a big opening day disadvantage for Latvala’s chief rival and championship leader, Ogier.
Better still, Latvala will start second in the road order - the position that benefits most from the road sweeper ahead. Latvala himself acknowledges that this should give him a leg-up on Friday.
But remember, this theory works for dry roads only – throw some rain into the mix and the cleaning effect won’t be so pronounced.
2: He’s never had it so good
Jari-Matti has had his share of ups and downs over the last 11 seasons, but he’s currently enjoying his best up so far.
With 60 points from the opening three rounds, including a win in Sweden, he heads to Portugal brimming with confidence and second in the standings, just three points behind Ogier. He’s never made such a good start to a season.
3: He’s in love with his car
Jari-Matti really seems to have got to grips with the Polo R WRC. After a shaky start to 2013, he says he has a completely different feel for the Volkswagen this year.
Things took another step forward last week, when he tested the car for two days in Almodovar, working with the base set-up and making detailed improvements.
“I changed the set-up a little from Rally Mexico but this was more about fine-tuning,” Latvala told wrc.com. “In particular I wanted to get more turn-in. In Mexico I was a bit distracted in some areas with understeer. Now I have a very good feeling for the car.”
4: He’s out to set the record straight
More than any driver, Latvala is desperate to add a positive chapter to his Rally Portugal story. Up to now, his six starts have been overshadowed by the crash in 2009 when his car rolled 17 times down a hillside.
He crashed out again the following year, but has shown flashes of brilliance ever since. He made the podium in 2011, and was leading in 2012 before slipping off the road in atrocious conditions.
He claimed a maiden podium with the Polo R in 2013 and only missed out on second place because of a broken drive shaft. With that confidence boost, and a set of pace notes he reckons are spot on, we predict 2014 will be the year his luck changes.