The fast but inconsistent Jari-Matti Latvala has produced some of his best WRC performances lately, but a bit too late in the game.
It almost sounds like a broken record to say it now, over seven years since his first FIA World Rally Championship victory, but Jari-Matti Latvala is a diamond in the rough. Unfortunately those rough edges have robbed the talented Finn of much needed consistency. The kind of consistency that saw his compatriots Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen consistently challenge for the WRC title in the face of Sebastien Loeb’s frightening domination of rallying. Domination that arguably killed a lot of interest in the sport, much like the way Mercedes’ current rule in Formula 1 has made fans hope for a red resurgence.
With a successor to Loeb’s mantle as the fast Frenchman already tearing through rallies, Latvala’s off-days come far too often to allow him to get anywhere close to troubling Sebastien Ogier the way that Gronholm and Hirvonen had gotten to troubling Loeb.
Close To The Greats
Latvala’s third win of the season – on the tarmac of the Tour de Course – was the fifteenth WRC win of his career and places him just outside the top ten in the list of the WRC’s winningest drivers. In fact, it is two fellow Finns – Markku Alen and Hannu Mikkola – who currently have four and three wins more, respectively.
That definitely seals Latvala’s place in the pantheon of WRC’s super pilots. The ones the crowds come to see and cheer till they are hoarse. Of course, breaking into the top ten – most likely by sometime next year – will also make Latvala the only driver in that top ten to not have at least one WRC title to his name.
To a driver like Latvala, who is extremely keen on the sport’s history and frequently takes part in historic rallies, that would be akin to hit on his legacy.
And as unlikely as it may seem in the case of high-profile athletes like WRC drivers and motorsport participants in general, building a legacy is important. A sense of history and wanting to stake his place in it drove Pete Sampras – for example – to push himself to go six calendar years as tennis’ number one player in the world and claim the all-time grand slam record. Just as it drove Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to shoot right past that mark a few years later.
It begs the question then, is Latvala hungry enough to iron out those rough edges to make one big push to get the better of his French teammate who already has three titles and 31 event wins to his name. That too from just 95 rallies.
Whatever Latvala is planning though, he better get around to it fast as Hyundai is looking to come out all guns blazing next year to topple VW off their perch. Or at the very least, steal some wins that have been looking like forgone conclusions since the 2013 season.
Hyundai’s new i20 is not expected to have the teething troubles that the current model had, on account of it already having a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder engine that is required by the current regulations.
Testing has been furiously ongoing this year while the team has not entirely given up on the chance to score some podiums this year. Powering the hardware is a young and hungry Belgian and arguably an even hungrier New Zealander who is likely to have Latvala looking over his shoulder while looking ahead at Ogier.