Just a day away from celebrating his 13th month on the planet, Jari-Matti Latvala could have no idea of the news which had just rocked Finnish rallying to its roots: Henri Toivonen had died in a terrible Tour de Corse crash which also claimed the life of his co-driver Sergio Cresto.
Eight years on and Latvala is learning - and learning fast - about Henri and what made him great. Twenty years on and Latvala re-writes his hero’s record by becoming the youngest ever winner of a round of the World Rally Championship. Toivonen won the 1980 RAC Rally aged 24, Latvala’s first success came when he was two years younger on last year’s Swedish Rally.
“Henri is always my hero,” says Latvala. “He was able to be faster than anybody when he needed to be. He had a lot of ups and downs in his career, but he was able to take times compared with the others that the other drivers couldn’t understand how he had done that - that was very impressive for me.
“I have always appreciated what’s needed to be fast driver, but now you need to be reliable as well as fast. The speed doesn’t bring everything. Henri being my hero started in beginning of the 1990s, when I was nine years old and I got the Sunbeam Avenger. The story was that this was Henri’s old car. But I found out some more details, I’m doing some research because I’m rebuilding the car now and I found that it’s not actually Henri’s car.
“As soon as I started to look into Henri’s career, I knew he was something special. And, as well as that, I have become quite good friends with Harri, Henri’s brother. Harri is doing some racing, driving for an English team running in America.”