“I thought it was the end of Lat­vala as we knew him”

Motor Sport News - - Rally Sweden | Round 02 - COLIN CLARK

What was the first thing I did Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter watch­ing JML’S sub­limely stun­ning vic­tory in Swe­den? I went out in search of the big­gest hum­ble pie i could find.

Strangely, hum­ble pie is in short sup­ply in Stoke-on-trent right now and as some­one rightly pointed out to me, you can’t buy hu­mil­ity.

So here we go, it doesn’t hap­pen often, but I apol­o­gise to JML, Tommi Maki­nen and the hum­ble Yaris. I re­ally didn’t see this com­ing. But it’s not a straight­for­ward apol­ogy. We were all mis­led! We were told this was go­ing to be a devel­op­ment year by the great man him­self. Folk of the cal­i­bre of David Lap­worth were warn­ing of two-year waits for suc­cess. The car looked like a dog in test­ing at times. And on the face of it, things weren’t ex­actly go­ing so smoothly in Pu­up­pola. We gasped in dis­be­lief when Tommi over­looked the ob­vi­ous tal­ent and form of An­dreas Mikkelsen in favour of the bro­ken and un­der­per­form­ing Lat­vala. Dark talk of a Fin­nish rally mafia bub­bled omi­nously.

So how do we ex­plain this in­cred­i­ble per­for­mance? Well, I can only put it down to the sheer bloody-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion of one man – Maki­nen. This is very much his team, and they are do­ing things his way, and that way would very much ap­pear to be the suc­cess­ful way. It’s one of the most as­ton­ish­ing sto­ries we’ve had the plea­sure of wit­ness­ing in the WRC for decades.

But how much credit should we per­haps give to Jari -Matti? Well, he’s a man re­born who de­serves al­most as many plau­dits as Maki­nen. I talked with him in Monte and men­tioned the fact that he looked and sounded like a dif­fer­ent per­son. He read­ily ad­mit­ted that in his last six months with VW he was in a very dark place. His re­sults were woe­ful and his de­meanour was beaten. I gen­uinely thought “Lucky boy, that’s your pen­sion sorted” when he signed with Toy­ota. Had we seen the last of Lat­vala on the top step of the podium? I thought so.

But what we are see­ing af­ter two events is the Jari-matti we’ve all been des­per­ate to see for the past decade. Gone are the hand-wring­ing, head-hang­ing, teary-eyed end of stage in­ter­views. Re­placed by a clear-headed ap­proach and a re-found joy of driv­ing and com­pet­ing that makes him al­most un­beat­able. It’s truly sen­sa­tional stuff, the com­bi­na­tion of Lat­vala and Maki­nen seems to be one of those mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ships.

You have to won­der, how­ever, what Ogier is think­ing right now. He turned down a salary re­puted to have been in ex­cess of €10m to drive a car that now leads him in the points. When Ogier tested the Yaris, it was clearly a long way be­hind the com­pe­ti­tion.

An al­most un­be­liev­able turn­around that makes this year’s WRC even more com­pelling.

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