Swedish victory puts Latvala in heart of the title battle BACK TO THE WRC SUMMIT
Jari-matti Latvala’s historic Rally Sweden victory has thrust him into the fight for this year’s World Rally Championship, according to Toyota team principal Tommi Makinen.
The four-time title winner said Latvala’s drive to victory on last week’s second round of the championship demonstrated his ability to take the fight to defending champion Sebastien Ogier and WRC pace-setter Thierry Neuville.
“I have a good feeling that Jari-matti can fight this year,” Makinen told
MN. “I can make him feel more confident and more comfortable in the car. I understand better than anybody else what this means, I have been there so long myself that I know what he is feeling. Very clearly this weekend, Jari-matti was the strongest man in the world.”
Latvala leads the drivers’ championship after his Swedish success came on the back of a second place in Monte Carlo.
Rally Sweden winner JariMatti Latvala has revealed how his maiden season with Toyota was saved by a matter of days when he arrived at the team last year.
Latvala was confirmed as Toyota Gazoo Racing’s lead driver in the first week in December, just as the Finnish squad was finalising its homologation specification on key parts for the Yaris WRC. The changes Latvala made to certain transmission components made the difference between winning and losing, according to the new World Rally Championship leader.
“If I had come to the team two weeks later then I wouldn’t be winning here,” Latvala told MN. “We had a lot of homologation details which were being sorted out, but I had this time of 14 days to give my input and to get things done. I was working on gear ratios and the differential set-up, these were the key parts we changed to make the car [better]. And we did it in time.”
Last week’s win was Toyota’s first world championship success since Didier Auriol’s Rally China success in 1999 and an emotional Latvala admitted it came earlier than he had expected – despite his second place at last month’s Monte Carlo Rally.
“The feeling from this win is the same as when I won a world championship rally for the first time in 2008. Before the start of the year, I was thinking top six in Monte and top five in Sweden might be possible.”
Latvala praised the team’s effort since he arrived, adding: “I could feel there was a lot of potential when I drove the car in the first tests, but still the base set-ups were a bit far away from where I wanted and the mappings were not exactly correct. But I tried to bring that performance input that I have learned from the Polo, to use that information to help to develop the car. The guys reacted very, very quickly with an excellent job. Really, I have to say, what an incredible job with an incredible team.”
By the admission of both Latvala and his team principal Tommi Makinen, one of the biggest challenges of the season will come on the next round in Mexico, where the Yaris is missing
high-altitude, hot weather testing.
Latvala said: “The gravel can be more challenging and the altitude especially, but we have such a big motivation to work and if we keep fighting and working like we are then everything is possible.”
Makinen admitted the conditions on the Leon rally were of concern to him.
“We did testing at high altitude,” Makinen told MN. “We also have done testing in the very high temperatures, but we didn’t have the chance to do the same time. We will see, but this could be tough.”
The four-time world champion wasn’t about to worry about what might come next month when he had just realised a dream result.
“There were quite a few people at the end of last year who were saying that this was not possible for us to be here in this position,” said Makinen. “But we knew our potential. We had no knowledge of the others and that made it a bit difficult to go forward, but now we know where we are. It’s so hard to analyse something from Monte Carlo, but this was the performance rally and we could immediately see the quick points [from the car]. And, don’t worry, we have quite a few things in our pocket to make the car even quicker.”
No stranger to winning at a world championship level, the 24-time world rally winner admitted the feeling was the same as a team principal.
He added: “It’s just the same as when you are a driver. But it was difficult watching that final stage, you send the driver out and that is everything you can do. Then you wait. Winning is amazing. With Japan, we have a saying that is: ‘We hate to lose!’ I can tell from the messages from [Toyota Motor Corporation] president Akio Toyoda that he is very happy with what we have achieved.”
Toyota’s maiden win with the Yaris WRC comes just 10 months after the car turned a wheel in testing for the first time – a result which drew respect across the service park. “It’s incredible what they have achieved,” said M-sport’s team principal Malcolm Wilson – whose drivers Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier filled the other two steps of the podium in second and third place respectively. “I’m very, very pleased for Tommi [Makinen] and for Jari-matti, they have worked for this and they deserve it. It’s some story for them.”
Latvala’s former team-mate Ogier said it was good to see him smiling again after some difficult times for the Finn at Volkswagen.
“I think everybody is surprised in a positive way about their performance,” Ogier told MN. “In Monte Carlo, they were not really strong and they were lucky with the result, but this time, this weekend, they put in a good performance. OK, again, it’s a very specific ground, so we have to wait for gravel, but it looks like we have to take them very seriously.”
Makkinen: Win proves Yaris
Miikka Antilla and Jari- Matti Latvala celebrate shock win