After 217 days away from the winner’s circle, Jari-Matti Latvala is back on the top step of the podium for Ford. “It’s amazing that it’s been so long, but actually it feels longer,” he pointed out. “After a while you begin to lose your confidence, so it’s great to be back and winning in such a strong way.”
The tension was getting to his Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson too. “Watching Jari win today, I probably felt more tense on a rally than I have done for the last 15 years,” he said. “It just meant so much to all of us.”
Latvala took the lead from the first day, but behind him there was a huge battle for second between Red Bull’s Sebastien Loeb and the other factory Ford of Petter Solberg. Going into the final stage, they were separated by just a tenth of a second.
“It was so tense that Sebastien stopped talking to me,” said Solberg. “We just focused hard on going flat out instead.”
Loeb had a different interpretation: “Petter was just talking too much all the time, so I couldn’t concentrate… that’s why I didn’t bother talking.”
'I was always expecting the Citroens to strike back like Star Wars' - Jari-Matti Latvala
In the end it was Loeb who won their battle – but the eight-time world champion said that he couldn’t live with Latvala’s pace. “Maybe some people think that winning comes easy for me, but that’s just not true: I’m pushing hard all the time,” said Loeb.
As for Latvala himself, he took a Jedi-like approach. “I wasn’t relaxed for a moment because I was always expecting the Citroens to strike back like Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back!” he said. “But luckily it didn’t happen: that was a good feeling when I realised they weren’t coming for me...”
For Red Bull’s Citroen superstar Sebastien Loeb, the best feeling of all will come in France on home territory in three weeks time, as barring a complete disaster, this is when he will be crowned world champion for the ninth time. As for Citroen, they will be manufacturer champions for the eighth time.
Loeb’s co-driver Daniel Elena admitted that he wasn’t a fan of Rally Great Britain though. “I’ve just worked it out: it felt like such a long rally because we had 29 hours of road section for three hours of stages. Fantastic…it’s just as well that myself and Seb have plenty to talk about.”
As for the locals, they made up for in enthusiasm what they lacked for in terms of knowledge. One Welsh taxi driver, taking us to rally HQ in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, pointed out: “It’s a bit busy here today, see, the Grand Prix’s here.”
So we couldn’t resist asking him whether or not he had seen Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel around. “I wouldn’t know what he looked like,” admitted the Welsh cabbie. “But I’m sure he’s around here somewhere…”
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