Jari-Matti Latvala was the reason Toyota returned to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2017, according to Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team chairman Akio Toyoda.
Toyoda has relayed in emotional and fascinating detail how Latvala’s decision to stop and chat at Neste Rally Finland five years ago convinced him to bring the Japanese giant back to the WRC.
Toyoda said: “When I visited Finland for the first time in 2014, Toyota had not yet decided to come back to the WRC.
“I was so excited because it was my first WRC visit and I stood in the hotel lobby to see the drivers in person. Jari-Matti was the first driver to arrive. When I excitedly greeted him, he said a friendly hello.
“While chatting, he noticed me as someone from Toyota and happily talked to me about his Corolla and Celica.
“This was the moment I made the decision to come back. We needed to come back to WRC while such a driver remembered Toyota competing. You could say that if I didn’t see such a friendly VW driver back then, maybe Toyota would not be in the WRC now!”
It was confirmed today (Wednesday) that Latvala and Kris Meeke have been dropped from Toyota’s 2020 squad in favour of a new-look line-up featuring Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanpera, but Toyoda urged the Finn to ‘keep in touch’.
Talking about Latvala’s time in the team, Toyoda added: “When I heard you would become our driver two years later, I was very moved by this wonderful fate. Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect at the beginning of the season that we could win in our first season.
“The target was to get a podium finish within a year. However, you brought Toyota to the podium immediately in Monte-Carlo. And then you brought us to the top of the podium the following month in Sweden. It was a dream experience.
“I was so glad we could finally stand together on the podium last year in Finland. When I look back at pictures from afterwards, I noticed I sprayed the champagne bottle given by Ott (Tänak) towards you at first. I believe it shows how much I got excited for my first podium together with you.”
Toyoda also had words for Meeke’s commitment this season.
“You have worked hard for Toyota. You always attacked to the maximum and pushed the car to the limit, and gave a lot of advice from the viewpoint of a former engineer. This has made the Yaris stronger. Thank you for your contribution this year.”