With more than a few special stage still to run in Sweden, I am not sure if I should talk about Jari-Matti Latvala’s pace – I wouldn’t like to hex him or anything, but I am glad he is doing a very good job in a Polo R WRC. His pace may still not be in line with that of rally leader and team mate Sebastien Ogier, but nonetheless, Latvala is showing confidence and the ability to keep out of trouble. Which is great and exactly what Volkswagen, WRC and ultimately fans need. Not bad for someone nicknamed Crashi-Matti or Crashvala, right?
After morning loop of stages today, Latvala is in third place and in a very interesting situation – he is 13.8 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb, but also only 1.5 seconds ahead of very fast and motivated Mads Ostberg. Gap to Loeb is not that high, but that is one mother of understatements. To be able to reduce it, Latvala would most likely need to step out of his comfort zone and take more than a few risks, hoping Loeb is actually driving on the limit. According to Mr. Nine-Titles himself, there is no point for him (Loeb) to push too much right now, but I’m sure he would be able to increase the pace if suddenly Latvala began charging. At the same time, Ostberg is not only the leading Qatar MWRT pilot, but he is very serious about ending Rally Sweden on podium. On SS 11 Ostberg reduced the gap to Latvala to just 2.2 seconds only to chip additional tenths on the following Hagfors Sprint, the final stage of the loop. What a drive!
This scandinavian duel is also interesting and encouraging because it pinpoints the possible candidates for this years title and win on individual rallies. Latvala has few wins under his belt, but Ostberg is only just warming up, and as much as 2013 could be the year of Sebastien Ogier and Volkswagen, there is a very strong and healthy competition not far behind. Best thing about it – they’re all young drivers. This really could be quite the season.