Date of Birth:03 Apr 85
Car:VW Polo R WRC
WRC Debut:Great Britain 2002
WRC Rally Wins:8
2012: Third in World Rally Championship with one win
2011: Fourth in World Rally Championship with one win
2010: Second in World Rally Championship with two wins
2009: Fourth in World Rally Championship with one win
2008: Joins factory Ford team. Fourth in World Rally Championship with one win
2007: Leads in Sardinia. Claims first podium in Ireland
2006: Fourth in Production Car World Rally Championship with two wins
2005: Tops Group N category in Sardinia and Corsica
Latvala started driving when he was eight years old, competed on his first rally in Finland when he was 16, and became the youngest driver to win a world championship qualifier aged 22 years and 313 days when he triumphed on Rally Sweden in 2008.
Two years later, and with three more wins under his belt, Latvala finished runner-up in the world championship to Sebastien Loeb with his sixth podium of the season following a hugely impressive campaign in a works Ford Focus.
Latvala’s competition career began in his native Finland in 2002 although it wasn’t long before he began competing overseas. He took over from Mikko Hirvonen in Motoring Club’s Italian Subaru Cup entry in 2003 and won the title before claiming victory on the final round of the British Rally Championship in a Ford Focus as a 17-year-old. By then he’d already finished 10th on the Acropolis Rally in a factory-entered Ford Focus.
After spending much of 2004 in two-wheel-drive machinery, he used 2005 and 2006 to gain more experience in Group N Subaru Imprezas alongside a period of national service and a handful of outings in World Rally Cars, including four appearances for the semi-works Stobart VK M-Sport squad in 2006.
He ended 2006 with back-to-back wins in the Production Car World Rally Championship in Australia and New Zealand before claiming fourth overall on Rally GB in a Focus WRC.
Those performances earned him a 16-round programme with the Stobart Ford team for 2007, the undoubted highlight of which was a third-place finish on Rally Ireland, his first podium in the WRC.
Latvala was promoted to the factory Ford operation for 2008 as number two to Mikko Hirvonen who had taken over from Marcus Gronholm as team leader. After a disappointing start in Monte Carlo, Latvala won the second round in Sweden and secured a further five podium finishes before the year was out. However, his campaign was plagued by a spate of driving errors, which resulted in demotion to the Stobart team for two events.
With his confidence restored he returned to the main Ford fold and ended the year with second place finishes in Japan and Great Britain, where he narrowly missed out on victory to Sebastien Loeb.
There were more ups and downs in 2009. A terrifying crash in Portugal, which Latvala put down to driver error, was followed by a second career win in Sardinia. But what should have been a Ford one-two in Poland ended in despair when Latvala crashed within sight of the finish of the rally’s final special stage.
Ford stuck by its troubled driver, however, and after adopting a safety-first approach, Latvala finished the final four rounds of the season to secure a third term with the factory squad in 2010 when he shone by finishing runner-up in the standings on the back of a hugely impressive season.
More progress followed in 2011 when Latvala also emerged as a contender on asphalt with several stage wins and victory on the season-closing Wales Rally GB. In 2012 he led Ford’s effort following Hirvonen’s departure to Citroen, but it was a mixed season. On the plus side, he finished the season one place higher but, on the downside, it was clear that the heart had gone out of Ford’s corporate rallying effort.
For 2013, Latvala can make a fresh start with VW. He will be very familiar with the charismatic Jost Capito who moved from motorsports at Ford to spearhead VW’s WRC campaign. A lack of corporate desire (or cash) is not likely to be a problem at his new home.