THE COMEBACK KIDS
Toyota headquarters would have been the place to be after Rally Sweden on February 12, as the manufacturer celebrated victory only two rallies into the team’s comeback following a 17-year absence from the World Rally Championship (WRC), with Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala at the helm.
The victory marks Latvala’s fourth at Rally Sweden, and his 17th career victory, and no doubt it will also have been one of his most emotional so far — he had faced a season on the sidelines after his Volkswagen team withdrew from the sport at the end of last season, but Japanese manufacturer Toyota announced a return to the WRC and quickly signed Latvala in a late deal. He went into the final leg with a close 3.8-second lead over Ott Tänak — long-time leader Thierry Neuville had crashed out the night before. Latvala claimed all three snow- and ice-covered speed tests behind the wheel of his Yaris World Rally car to extend the margin to 29.2 seconds.
Maximum bonus points were picked up on the power stage, and — after taking a second-place finish at the season-opener, Rallye Monte Carlo — he had a four-point lead in the drivers’ championship, the first time any driver other than four-time champion Sébastien Ogier has led since February 2014.
“It’s amazing. A new team, a new car, our second rally, and we’re winning. I have no words to describe it, I’m so emotional. We’re at a good level, but now we go forward and it gets more difficult. Mexico is next up and I’m really motivated for the championship,” Latvala said.
Tänak, driving a Ford Fiesta, looked to have one-upped the Finn the previous day, but the Estonian claimed to be unhappy with his car’s handling on the final day and conceded seven seconds as a result, settling for a matching career best of second. Kiwi Hayden Paddon was seventh behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20 coupe.
The new-era WRC cars will face scorching temperatures and unforgiving dirt roads for the first time next month when León hosts round three at Rally Guanajuato Mexico (March 9–12).