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Jari-Matti Latvala has ditched his World Rally Championship title challenge and will now focus on winning individual events in 2018.
The Toyota driver made a good start to his new plan with the fastest time in Thursday’s shakedown stage for this weekend’s Rally Argentina.
It is now 15 rallies since the Latvala’s last victory (Rally Sweden, 2017), which represents his longest gap between wins since his triumph in the ’11 Rally GB ended a run of 18 events with no success.
“It’s been a long time since I was winning a rally, [so] on the personal level it’s really important for me to win here,” Latvala told Autosport.
“Before the last rally in Corsica, I was thinking a lot about the championship, but now I’m thinking more like: ‘let’s go rally-by-rally and focus on what we can do with the events starting from here’.
“I’m happy with the start here. We worked on the traction from the car at the pre-event test in Sardinia and that has worked well.”
Latvala admitted the pressure on him was growing as his Toyota team-mates Ott Tanak and Esapekka Lappi continued to show more and more speed in their Yaris WRCs.
“Ott Tanak and Esapekka have been doing really well and the competition level is higher now,” he said.
“Sometimes pressure can be good also because it pushes you to a better performance.”
Latvala headed Citroen pair Craig Breen and Kris Meeke across the three-mile shakedown stage, beating them by three and four-tenths respectively.
After he returned to action for the first time since finishing second in Sweden, Breen was delighted with taking second in the shakedown.
“It’s great to be back in my C3 WRC, especially as the feeling was good right from the word go this morning,” he said.
“I feel we have a good package to challenge at the front this weekend.
“Although I may lack experience on this unusual surface, I’m going to give it everything and make the most of my good road position tomorrow.”
Meeke was slightly more circumspect, adding: “Although you should never draw any hasty conclusions based on the shakedown, it’s always positive to start the racing weekend like this.
“I was comfortable in my C3 WRC today and the times reflected that.
“I just hope it’ll be the same thing when we start racing, but the opening leg is going to be a huge challenge on extremely fast and bumpy roads that are very demanding.”
Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth fastest, with Tanak and Thierry Neuville close behind.
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier was the fastest Ford Fiesta WRC driver in seventh, 1.5-seconds off Latvala’s pace.
Rally Argentina starts with a dash around the streets of Villa Carlos Paz on Thursday evening.
The main action starts south of the service park on the roads around San Agustin.