Swedish vic­tory puts Lat­vala in heart of the ti­tle bat­tle BACK TO THE WRC SUM­MIT

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By David Evans

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

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Mi­ikka An­tilla and Jari- Matti Lat­vala cel­e­brate shock win

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