AIRBORNE: Jari-Matti Latvala and co-driver Miikka Anttila, both from Finland, take a classic jump in their VW during the Australian leg of the 2014 World Rally championship. Image: AP / RallyAustralia
SYDNEY, Australia - Volkswagen team mates Sebastian Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala will be released from team orders and allowed to pursue their personal battle for the World Rally championship Drivers' title during this weekend's Australian Rally in New South Wales.
Ogier and Latvala jointly need only five points from the rally, the 10th of 14 rounds of the championships, to clinch the Manufacturers' title for VW. If the German team achieves that goal it will be the earliest the title has been secured in 25 years.
VW is already assured of the Drivers' crown as, with four rounds remaining, Latvala and team mate Andreas Mikkelsen are the only drivers in a position to catch Ogier who leads the title race with 187 points.
ASPHALT TO GRAVEL
VW's motorsport director Jost Capito said there would be no pressure on Ogier or Latvala to drive to team instructions.
"Rally Australia is one of the highlights of this year," Capito said. "With the current situation in the 2014 championship it has the potential to be particularly exciting. In the Ogier vs. Latvala duel each driver has been given the go-ahead to fight for victory.
"We also have a good chance of being able to celebrate winning the Manufacturers' title early.
The 44-point gap between Ogier and Latvala in the Drivers' standings is the same that existed before Rally Germany, the previous WRC round in which each crashed and failed to finish. Until that point the VW pair had won every round of the season with Ogier claiming five victories, Latvala three.
Rally Australia is contested mostly on gravel roads which are fast but notoriously slippery and can be challenging for early starters who sweep the surface for later cars.
Latvala said: "Switching back from asphalt to gravel is always harder than the other way around but we had a test in Finland before the rally to get used to the feeling once again.
"I hope I can fight for the win but we also need to keep an eye on the competition outside of our team. I think Citroën and Hyundai also have a good chance of winning."
The rally will start with technical, narrow and winding stages on Friday and concludes on Sunday with more than 100km of fast stages through rain forest.