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