Crashes vs. talents = VW signs Jari-Matti Latvala over Andreas Mikkelsen

With Ford’s demise and withdrawal from the World Rally Championship, few people went on to discuss what will happen to drivers, namely Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg. The former was rumoured to have already signed stuff with Volkswagen, but nothing was official until today.

So, the big question is no more – Jari-Matti Latvala will team up with Sebastien Ogier and try to challenge what remains of World Rally Championship roster in 2013, namely Mikko Hirvonen and whoever gets the second seat in Citroën. Of course, give or take a few privateer, semi-privateer, semi-works, semi-whatever teams as well.

Can’t say if I’m happy or not with the way things unfolded for Volkswagen. Ford’s exit is pretty big thing and it is quite hard to recover after that shocker, so to see JML being signed by Volkswagen instead of young and very deserving talents such as Andreas Mikkelsen is a bit odd at best. Yep, Jari-Matti is bloody quick, he has some wins under his belt, but he is also terribly inconsistent and as such should not have the priority over drivers such as Mikkelsen – who never got a chance to do a full season in a proper WRC car, to prove (or not) his worth. Unless Volkswagen plans to run some kind of three-car arrangement or launch their own semi-something teams for talented but no so lucky drivers?

My enthusiasm for 2013 still isn’t up after Ford’s (and Mini’s to some extent) exits, but I’m not exactly happy with Volkswagen’s lack of courage needed to sign a true youngster. Or perhaps they needed even more courage to sign Crashi-Matti instead? On the other hand, however, perhaps this is exactly what Jari-Matti needed – he could be changed man come 2013 and in the new team he might get that extra bit of focus needed to actually put his speed to good use.

Oh, and just to add, perhaps Citroën could do us all a big favour by signing one of the upcoming stars. As much as I’d like to see the likes of Petter Solberg retain their works driver status (and according to this, he did get an offer from Citroën), I also think it’s time for some of new guys to get some prime time.

Official announcement follows below:

Volkswagen has signed another top-flight driver for it’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) campaign. Jari-Matti Latvala together with co-driver Miikka Anttila will be driving a Polo R WRC starting at Rallye Monte Carlo (15–20 January 2013).

Latvala is regarded as one of the world’s quickest and most experienced rally drivers. The 27-year-old Finn has achieved victories at seven WRC rounds, finished the 2010 season as the runner-up in the world championship and, since his first rally success in 2008, maintained the record as the youngest rally winner in WRC history.

“We’re proud and highly pleased to have gained Jari-Matti Latvala for our World Rally Championship project. He’s one of the most distinguished WRC drivers in the field and has experience, aggressiveness and exceptional speed. I’ve known Jari-Matti since his early days in rallying and have been watching his development very closely. He’s a true reinforcement for our team,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “The fact that another top-flight driver believes in our success and is switching to our team gives each member of our team an additional motivation boost. In Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala we’ve got an excellent driver line-up for the debut of the Polo R WRC in the 2013 World Rally Championship.”

Latvala is joining Volkswagen after five years with the Ford factory team. “I’m very happy to be driving the Polo R WRC in the World Rally Championship in future. The determined approach of the Volkswagen team convinced me to accept this challenge,” says Latvala. “The time at Ford was very valuable for me and I would like to thank everyone who supported me there in the past years – it wasn’t easy for me to say goodbye. At the same time, I see the change as a personal new beginning. I’ve taken this decision in order to make another step towards reaching my big aim: the world champion’s title with Volkswagen.”

First WRC rally at 17, first victory at 22, WRC runner-up at 25 years of age

Latvala practically inherited his talent for rallying. His father drove rallies in Finland himself and supported his son very early on. At just eight years of age, Jari-Matti was sitting at the wheel of a car and a little later he was practising his first drifts on a frozen lake. At the age of 17, in 2002, Latvala entered the World Rally Championship stage at Rally Great Britain. Before moving up to the Ford factory team in 2008 Latvala, who hails from Töysä in the west of Finland, contested 52 WRC rounds in cars of different makes and power categories. At Rally Sweden in 2008, he celebrated his first WRC victory and added six further wins to his tally until today, including the classic events in Finland (2010) and Great Britain (2011/2012). In the 2010 season, he was the runner-up in the final standings; in 2011, he took more stage wins than any other driver and finished the world championship in fourth place. To date, Latvala has participated in 115 WRC rounds, been on podium 31 times and scored 612 WRC points. He has been relying on the navigation instructions of his 40-year-old compatriot Miikka Anttila since 2003.