WRC Academy meets the Ford World Rally Team’s finest

The FIA WRC Academy crews have had the opportunity to put their questions to some of the most accomplished drivers and co-drivers in the sport this year and, as the season came to a close at the 2012 RACC Rally de España last weekend, it was the turn of Ford World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg.

Having already had the chance to probe the likes of Chris Patterson, Mikko Hirvonen, Ken Block, Sébastien Loeb, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, the WRC Academy crews have obtained a wealth of knowledge from some of the biggest names in the sport. Adding the Ford drivers’ advice to their collection, the youngsters are well briefed on exactly what constitutes being a world class competitor in the FIA World Rally Championship.

The Ford pairing began by explaining how they had progressed to the sport and their stories could not have been more different. With a systematic approach to the top, Latvala recalled how he began his rallying career at the age of 16 when he caught the eye of manager, Timo Jouhki, in the same rallysprint contest that launched the career of former Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. Progressing to the British Rally Championship, the Finn was spotted by M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson, and the rest is history.

Solberg on the other hand, explained how he had been working as a painter in his native Norway before taking a loan from the bank to launch his rallying career. The charismatic Scandinavian was also probed by team-mate Latvala about his rumoured former career as a World Champion disco dancer, but swiftly put the rumours to rest!

Providing the WRC Academy crews with some expert advice on the task ahead, the Ford drivers detailed their previous experiences of Rally de España as well as advising the youngsters on how best to approach the switch from gravel to Tarmac and how to judge the level of grip in the final round of the season.

The duo also had a tale to tell when it came to the pressure to perform. Having recalled their worst rally moments – Solberg referencing his off-road excursion in France earlier this year and Latvala remembering his experiences of Rally Poland in 2009 – the Ford drivers reassured the WRC Academy crews and reaffirmed the fact that even the best of drivers can make mistakes. The most important piece of advice Latvala had to impart was to never lose confidence in your ability, never give up and never stop fighting.

Pontus Tidemand said: “Everyone was really interested in what Jari-Matti [Latvala] and Petter [Solberg] had to say. They are so inspirational and we all just sat there listening to them and taking in all of their advice.

“They told us how they started their careers and also had some really good tips for the rally. They gave us some good advice for the gravel stages – like how to safeguard the tyres on the Tarmac section through the long stage. Then they told us about their technique for making the switch from gravel to asphalt on the second day as smooth as possible.

“The meet the driver sessions have been really useful this year. Everyone has a different approach so it was good to hear from the guys at the top – and I think we had the opportunity to speak to almost everyone this year!”

Jari-Matti Latvala said: “It is great to tell stories when people are listening! I noticed that everyone was very focused and wanted to hear what we had to say. They were very keen to learn and concentrated 100 per cent – they wanted to pick up every detail. They are clearly a very motivated group of youngsters and I am happy to help them wherever I can.”

Petter Solberg said: “They are all good guys. I already know most of them and have talked to almost all of them at some point this season. They are very passionate and ask a lot of questions. They were clearly very eager to learn and I think we have a very good group of drivers for the future here!”