Jari-Matti Latvala wants Kalle Rovanperä to focus on battling Ott Tänak on Rally New Zealand, rather than chasing victory, as the 21-year-old edges closer to a maiden World Rally Championship title.
Two crashes in a row for Rovanperä has allowed Hyundai’s main contender in the drivers’ championship to close the gap at the top of the points table to 53 with three rallies left.
A perfect score of rally victory and the fastest powerstage time would guarantee Rovanperä a first world title this weekend regardless of what Tänak does.
But Toyota team principal Latvala has urged Rovanperä to focus primarily on keeping Tänak within reach, rather than chasing the top step of the podium.
“He doesn’t need to win,” Latvala told DirtFish. “He doesn’t need to fight for the victory here.
“He will open the road, which is not easy. There’s lots of big gravel, especially in the Whangaa Coast and Te Akau stages. If it rains it might get a bit better but still he will suffer.
“The most important thing for him now is that he needs to keep the head cool, not worry too much. Even [if] he is not on the podium, that’s not a problem. But if he can do the level that he normally drives, he will be inside the top five.
“[Sébastien] Ogier is there, who is going to try and win the event for sure. So Kalle only needs to look to Tänak. He doesn’t need to concentrate on anything else other than look at how Tänak is driving and then drive according to that.”
Putting a laser focus on what Tänak is doing might suggest Rovanperä and Toyota are already doing mental math to figure out the precise number of points needed to wrap up the title in New Zealand.
That’s something Rovanperä has always insisted he’s not been doing – and Latvala agreed that the focus should be on results, not counting points.
“No, I’m not doing it even myself,” agreed Latvala. “It’s better not to calculate too much. Kalle’s absolutely right.”
Rovanperä needs to outscore Tänak by eight points in New Zealand to seal a maiden WRC title.
No gap between two positions offers such a points gap – but the seven separating first and second would be enough for Rovanperä, as a sixth win of the season would guarantee the trophy heads to Finland in any tiebreak scenario.
That, naturally, raises the question – what if Ogier or Elfyn Evans is leading, with Rovanperä right behind? Would there be a swap?
“We don’t want to do any team orders, that is still our target,” Latvala reaffirmed.
“But I mean, for the position where we are now with the drivers, yeah, that [there are more opportunities for team orders] is the fact.
“Ogier is very hungry and it’s good for us if he attacks and tries to win because like you said, if he’s there ahead of the drivers who are, let’s say, important for Kalle in the fight, if he can steal points from Tänak and Neuville, that’s good.”
But when push comes to shove, Latvala hasn’t committed to an approach should such a situation emerge during the rally.
“No, I haven’t thought that far!” he said. “I haven’t thought about it so far because the tactical things, I’m not in favor of those. It’s only a matter of something to do if it’s really compulsory.”