Drivers in the World Rally Championship are rarely found in the right-hand seat. Not unless there’s a long road section to be driven and sleep to be had.
Which is why it’s surprising to find former Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Juho Hänninen preparing himself for the co-driver’s seat in a Yaris on next week’s Rally Sweden (13 - 16 February).
Hänninen is a highly distinguished driver, having captured the European Championship in 2012 and spent the last four years as part of Tommi Mäkinen’s Toyota squad.
He drove a full season when the Japanese manufacturer returned to the WRC in 2017, claiming a podium on his home event in Finland. He remains part of the factory team now, except in Torsby next week he’s entered by Latvala Motorsport in the number 10 Yaris.
Not for the first time, Hänninen will co-drive Jari-Matti Latvala, the WRC’s most experienced driver. But it is the first time in the WRC and in a World Rally Car.
Previously the pair have shared Latvala’s Toyota Celica GT-Four on four historic events in 2017 and 2018. More importantly, Hänninen co-drove in Latvala’s tests for the last two years.
Not since Finland 2006 has Latvala been partnered in a WRC event by anyone other than Miikka Anttila. Anttila will line-up next week alongside Eerik Pietarinen in a Skoda Fabia in the WRC 3 category.
“I’m very confident for Juho,” said Latvala. “I think he is the only driver I know who can stay in the car (as a co-driver) and go at the full speed. He is so good with the notes, it’s perfect. I think as well it will be a help that in some stages he knows the road a little bit as well, he will know what to expect.”
The pair tested together for half a day in Finland yesterday (Friday), where everything went to plan. Hänninen said: “Now I’m really looking forward to this. After the test went well, it’s going to be really cool to compete alongside Jari-Matti.”
Latvala admitted to being slightly rusty on his first run in the Yaris.
“It’s been a long time since Spain (last October) when I last drove this car at full speed,” he said. “It was so nice to get back in and go again. Once I did the first run, I felt the confidence coming and then everything was good. I’m excited for the rally.”