Feature: Dinner with Jari-Matti Latval and Mikka Anttila – Fast is slow

Sisu is a Finnish word that, loosely translated, means stoic determination, bravery, guts, resilience, perseverance and hardiness. It expresses the historic self-identified Finnish national character. As we discovered during dinner with Volkswagen Motorsport Finnish drivers Jari-Matti Latval, 30, and Mikka Anttila, 43, sisu was a cornerstone behind their recent victory at the Neste Oil Rally in Finland. This was followed by a superb second place at the ADAC Rallye Deutschland in Germany, where team Volkswagen Motorsport scored an astounding 1-2-3 finish.

We were honoured to be invited to dinner with Jari-Matti and Mikka, who had stopped by Singapore enroute to the Coats Hire Rally in New South Wales, Australia, and were open and candid in sharing couple of useful driving tips.

Challenges facing the sport

Like everything else in the world, the World Rally Championship, WRC, is facing challenges of its own. Today, many other different extreme sports such as motocross and mountain biking are drawing fans away from rally.

It has become a challenge to keep people interested in one sport. Fans like to see competitive action and rally can continue to engage public interest by having shorter stages which are more intense. Jari-Matti noted that “going back to complete endurance is not happening anymore”.

The longest stages peak at 60km. With shorter stages, drivers tend go all out. They push themselves and their cars to the limit. Fortunately, cars these days are so well-engineered that drivers need not fear the car cannot do it. From the perspective of Jari-Matti and Mikka, rally is not just about racing cars cross-country. Rally is really an opportunity to allow fans to get close to cars and drivers. So in the spirit of promoting the sport to the next generation, Jari-Matti and Mikka favour admitting fans to rally service areas so that fans can see mechanics working on cars.

What it takes to win

In order to win, one must first finish the race. One cannot finish the race if he has lost time trying to recover from inadvertently running off the course due to excessive speed. An interesting and important footnote for those inclined only to speed – the average rally speed is only about 90 km/h, with recce drives averaging about 60 km/h.

The best drivers pace themselves according to terrain and road conditions. There are times to go all-out and push pedal to the metal (T-junctions in seventh gear; hairpin turns in gear eight or nine). At other times, a more deliberate drive carries the day.

So, what makes a good co-driver/navigator? Interestingly, while anticipation of the road ahead is important – co-drivers only advise the driver one corner ahead; they themselves need to think three to four turns ahead – the co-driver must understand the movement of the car. The co-driver must drive the car in his mind. If there is uncertainty, the driver makes the call.

Photo courtesy of Motorsport.com

Photo courtesy of Motorsport.com

Some parting advice for track day drivers

Common sense applies at all times. For example, brake before big dips, kick down one gear, then accelerate steadily and smoothly out of the dip, so the car has an even flight path out of the dip.

Alas, hard landings from big jumps eventually take a toll on drivers’ spines. While drivers can grip the steering wheel for support and mitigate some of the impact. Co-drivers have been known to hurt their backs as they have nothing against which to brace themselves for the landing. Injuries can be especially bad if as cars do not always land on all 4 wheels.

Jari-Matti advised against ambitious long jumps as the car beings to lose velocity almost immediately after its wheels have lost contact with the road surface. On landing, one has then to make up for lost time by accelerating again, in the process losing critical seconds trying to find new traction.

One final takeaway for track day drivers – the same principles that apply to rally driving, also apply to tarmac driving – in corners, fast is slow.


Cover and article photographs courtesy of the Internet.

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