Under the best of circumstances, rallying is among the most extreme forms of motorsport on the planet. Drivers spend an entire stage running on the very edge of control, piloting cars on surfaces ranging from gravel to snow to sand to mud to pavement (or any combination of these).
Mistakes can be costly, as there are no corner workers on a rally stage. Crash hard, and it will be a long time before help arrives; experience mechanical failure, and fixing it is up to the driver and co-driver.
The best drivers find a way to overcome what the car throws at them, and such is the case with WRC star Jari-Matti Latvala. While competing in the Lahti Historic Rally 2012, Latvala’s late-70s Ford Escort RS BDA rally car gave up second and third gear, giving the Finnish driver the choice of sitting out the stage or competing with just three gears.
Latvala chose the latter, running the stage with first gear, fourth gear and fifth gear. Given that the Cosworth BDA engine made less than 250 horsepower in the late 1970s, acceleration in fourth gear, when shifting from first, is best described as “leisurely,” but Latvala prevails.
As any of us who’ve ever had to limp a car home minus a gear or two will tell you, it’s harder than it looks. There’s always the thought in the back of your mind that the remaining cogs are living on borrowed time, forcing you to be even more delicate than you ordinarily would be.
Delicate and fast usually don’t go hand-in-hand, but Latvala pulls it off. That’s probably why he’s the number one driver for Ford’s 2012 WRC effort.