Volkswagen driver Latvala got his title hopes off to a terrific start with second place at the opening round, Rallye Monte-Carlo, and he heads to the championship’s winter fixture closer than ever to his chief title rival – and team-mate – defending champion Sebastien Ogier.
“Monte Carlo was the best opening to a season that I have ever had, so I’m really, really satisfied with that.” Latvala told wrc.com. “Of course it’s interesting now to go to Sweden only six points behind Ogier, compared to last year when I was 14 points behind. Okay, Sebastien has won this rally, but I have too – three times. It’s one of my favourite events and a completely different challenge to the Monte. There I was concentrating more on just finishing. But in Sweden I can’t just drive safely because I’m hoping to fight for victory.”
Key to Latvala’s Sweden approach will be knowing when to go all out for the win, and when to curb his natural instinct to take more risks and look instead at the bigger picture.
“My strategy for Sweden is quite straightforward: I’ll drive as fast and as well as I can,” he said.“But if it looks like I don’t have the speed or the confidence to fight for the victory, then it’s more important for the championship to understand the situation, stay calm, and try to take points instead. Fourth or fifth might put me in a good position for Mexico. And there it might be a different story.”Latvala accepted that the strategy had been influenced new FIA regulations which put the championship leader first on the road for the opening two days of each rally. This is usually a disadvantage on loose gravel events like round three in Mexico.
“If I win in Sweden it might be the case that I’ll be opening the road in Mexico – which is not ideal,”he said. “On the other hand, nobody would give away the victory if it was within reach!
“But becoming world champion is not only about winning the most rallies. If you play it clever, stay consistent, and remain near the top in the standings, I believe you will still have a chance to take the title by winning less rallies. It’s a bit like when Richard Burns won the title back in 2001. He only won one rally but was very, very consistent. For me, this years new rules are supporting this tactic.”
In Sweden Latvala can also count on the support of mental trainer, Christoph Treier – the man credited with Latvala’s increased determination and focus since they began working together last season.
Latvala said: “I remember last year I was a little hesitant coming to Sweden because it had been more than two months since we had tested the car and I wasn’t completely happy. But helped by Christoph, I managed to boost myself step by step and things started to work out.
“This year it’s easier to go to there and for sure the work that I’m doing with Christoph is helping. I can think more about each event with someone who has experience of it and who keeps me in line with what I need to do. In the past I was thinking all the time by myself and sometimes I couldn’t keep myself under control – which led to mistakes. Now Christoph looks after me and makes sure I follow the strategy.”