Saturday | 13 Feb 2021

Toyota boss Latvala back behind the wheel

Jari-Matti Latvala will drive his first rally as team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing at Saturday’s Mesikämmen Ralli – but he’ll be using his own Celica GT-4 rather than one of the Yaris WRCs he rules over.

Latvala, who will be co-driven by TGR test driver Juho Hänninen, used his own Toyota on numerous events last season and will face familiar competition from father Jari, who drives an identical Celica GT-4 at the Finnish event.

The Ähtäri-based winter rally is the first time the two Latvalas have competed directly against each other since 2004. The younger of the two Finns was 26sec faster then.

“It will be a lot of fun,” said Latvala Jr. “We drove against each other in 2004 in a Finnish Championship event with Corolla WRCs. I had a 1999 car and my father was in a 1998 Corolla. This weekend the Celicas are on the same level.”

Latvala took on the team principal role last December. He joked at the time that before accepting the job he asked Toyota Motor Corporation president and team chairman Akio Toyoda to be allowed to compete with his Celica for fun.

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Once done with the single-day Finnish Historic Rally Trophy round, Jari-Matti will be busy with his day job again – and that means focusing on the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship at Arctic Rally Finland (26 - 28 February).

Latvala brings personal experience to the Rovaniemi-based fixture.

“In 2006,” he said, “I was driving in the Arctic Rally [in a Toyota Corolla WRC]. I have good and bad memories. Typical on the Arctic Rally are these long, long, long corners.

“I couldn’t drive it fast enough in them to begin with. I didn’t have the confidence enough, until I finally got the rhythm. Then I went off [in] a snowbank. I was shovelling the car out for one hour!

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“This is typical in Lapland. You can have a lot of snow in the snowbank and it’s no harm for a car, but it’s not coming back – it’s the nature of the rally.

“I’m super delighted we can have two WRC rounds in Finland. I remember 20 years ago when they were speaking and saying it will be so fantastic to have a WRC round where it’s guaranteed snow. Of course, we’ve always been thinking about this opportunity in Lapland.

“We thought it would never happen, but now this opportunity has opened and the option was able to be taken and we can have this event in Lapland in the winter time plus the summer rally.”

Finland’s gravel rally, round eight of the WRC season, will be based in Jyväskylä on 29 - 31 July.