After the mistake in Monte Carlo and retirement early on in the rally many critics were quick to judge Jari-Matti Latvala’s ability to cope with the pressure of being number one driver in Ford with imperative on scoring as many points as possible to secure both titles. It’s no secret that Latvala was prone to mistakes and crashes, but with priorities shifting to his favour within Ford things should have improved quickly on his behalf. Perhaps it’s unfair to say so, but huge part of Ford’s involvement in World Rally Championship depends on Latvala’s ability to take the pressure and direct it into speed and consistency. In Sweden he displayed superb performance and consistency, very much needed after Monaco blunder.
Monaco mistake was, well, a mistake. Even Sebastien Loeb does those. With only two rallies behind is it’s not really possible to judge Latvala’s shape this year, and Sweden is specific event, suited to drivers with experience on snow.
Despite that Latvala’s Swedish outing was superb. He took control of the rally from the word go – by setting fastest time on Qualifying Stage he was able to pick perfect starting position for Friday and that pretty much was it. What makes his Swedish triumph even better is the fact he had to fight for it despite the optimal starting position and at the same time think about the tires and studs. Mikko Hirvonen pushed his former team-mate to the very last stage, but Ford’s number one was beyond Mikko’s reach this time.
“Jari-Matti is not easy to catch anymore”, Hirvonen commented after day 2, and he was right. When Jari-Matti does his work without errors he is blindingly fast and confident with no room for hesitations or doubts. Victory in Sweden gave him valuable collection of points in his bid to finally end the reign of Sebastien Loeb and Citroën. But even more importantly victory gave him confidence after big disappointment of Monte Carlo.
With Latvala, Hirvonen, Loeb and Solberg in two top teams this season could really be a special one. If Mini sorts it’s problems and lineups and privateers keep their sponsors we might finally be enjoying the season of exciting fighting.