Despite the fact that Jari-Matti Latvala was 1 minute and 16 seconds behind Mikko Hirvonen ahead of the longest stage of the rally, Ford’s strategists had no second thoughts about what would be the best course of action for Latvala at this point in the rally. Somehow they’ve missed the “secure third spot” bit and instructed their number one driver to go into all out attack on 54 kilometer Guanajuatito stage.
And all out attack was what he did, setting fastest split times along the way up to the point where he got close to the spot that took out Evgeny Novikov few minutes earlier. The rest of the story is well known, Latvala claims to have been distracted by the sight of Novikov’s crashed car, which then led to him switching into panic mode. He braked hard, car went wide, slid into the bank and rolled.
Latvala later claimed he was caught out because there were no warnings from spectators and marshals, whom were apparently instructed to do so by Novikov. In his lengthy video recap of Rally Mexico, however, Novikov said nothing about this, but blamed his own crash on co-driver Denis Giraudet, with partial blame also going to the missing roof vent and lots of dust getting in to the car.
Personally, and judging from the onboard footage, I think Latvala was already sliding off towards the ditch when Novikov’s car came into the picture. And I don’t understand the bit about being suprised seeing he got the info about Russian’s crash from his team. But this is just my personal feeling, and I could be dead wrong with only bumper cam footage being available. I wonder if WRC’s new policy is to not have cameras mounted on the cockpit rollcage bars behind the seats? If the Finn was able to spot Novikov’s car earlier from his driving position then this slide could easily be explained, but again, it’s impossible to say what the seat level view looked like.
To top it all off, Malcolm Wilson and Ford are happy with their decision to let their driver go into mission impossible mode instead of keeping third spot and points. I was not expecting anything else from them to be honest, it all happened because of the few wrong moves on both driver’s and team’s side, and what they’re doing now is covering their backs. Latvala will not question his team’s decisions over the strategy for that stage, and Ford will not question Latvala’s “distraction” story. Meanwhile, and to my utter delight, Petter Solberg is leading Ford’s charge against the Citroën! Again, I’ll quote Mark Webber: “Not bad for a number two, eh?”
Asked if he had considered slowing Latvala down earlier in the stage, Wilson said: ‘No. We’d agreed what we were going to do and we’d sent him Mikko’s [last split] time in the stage.
“We gave him Mikko’s 25km split time just to keep him [Hirvonen] on his toes. We had also given him the exact distance to Novikov’s car. This was a mistake.” – Autosport.com’s David Evans wrote today.
With all this said and done, I think I’ll just leave this rally and all it’s dramas to the past now. Hoping Jari-Matti, Petter and their team will find the inner strength and wisdom to bring the points and titles to their brand. Otherwise Ford’s could end up hiring their own version of green piglets to do their bidding in the WRC in future. And who would blame them?!
Quote source: Autosport.com