If the recent Rallye de France-Alsace was a case of ‘win or bust’ for Latvala, next weekend’s Rally Spain is ‘win or bust – part two’. Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila made history in France by becoming the first Finnish duo to win an all-asphalt event for almost 15 years but, more importantly, the victory helped close the gap on title rival Ogier. However, having stayed in the race, the Finns now face an equally challenging task in Spain, where Latvala must again finish ahead of Ogier – and the further in front he finishes the better for his world championship chances.
Only a win will really help the challenger significantly as he currently trails the defending champion by 27 points, with a maximum of 28 up for grabs at any individual rally.
If things run in Latvala’s favour, and against Ogier, in Spain, Rally Great Britain will provide the backdrop for a dream finale, but the Finn knows that he has to focus solely on the immediate future.
“I am looking forward to the Rally Spain, as I really like it – and we are still in with a chance of winning the world championship,” the Finn commented, “I have never been in this situation with two rallies to go.”
It will be no easy task, however, as Ogier and Latvala have shown their class on both gravel and asphalt recently. Rally Spain is the only event on the WRC calendar to feature roughly the same number of kilometres of special stage on both surfaces, and the two leading duos will be faced with virtually identical conditions. Ogier will open the route on the gravel of day one, with Latvala directly behind them as the second World Rally Car onto the roads.
The very same duel thrilled Spanish fans twelve months ago, when Latvala led after the opening two days, only to see his lead melt away on the final day, as his role as first man on road left him with no option but to sweep the gravel roads for his rivals behind him.
“With the first day on gravel and the other two on asphalt, I think it could be an exciting duel between Sébastien and me,” the Finn conceded, “As long as I still have a chance, I will keep on fighting.
“The surface is relatively hard on the gravel stages, but is covered by a fine layer of loose gravel. The road sweeper effect is particularly potent here. That could give me a slight advantage. On the other hand, the dust in the air could impair my vision. Whatever happens, the characteristics of the route suit me. I like the rally and we have a good set-up for gravel and asphalt, with which I am very comfortable.”