Mon 28 Feb 2022

Latvala applauds Kalle’s Sweden attack from the front

Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Jari-Matti Latvala believes Kalle Rovanperä’s superb opening day drive laid the platform for the Finn’s Rally Sweden victory last weekend.

Despite being first in the start order for all seven speed tests across the longest day of the event, 21-year-old Rovanperä led after the opening loop. He ended the day just 4.3sec adrift of leader Thierry Neuville.

After regaining the initiative on Saturday morning’s opening special stage, Rovanperä was never again headed. He fought off the challenge of team-mate Elfyn Evans to follow in the tyre tracks of father Harri by winning the FIA World Rally Championship’s winter fixture.

“You could see the car was working well in the ruts and on the road but still you have to drive it and Kalle, I would say, the performance where he impressed me the most was on Friday,” said Latvala.

“I know how it is to be first car on the road and specially the second passage when it’s more difficult when there are very narrow ruts.

“He managed to keep his head cool, he didn’t do any mistakes and he managed to keep the difference to Thierry very small. Then he attacked on Saturday and basically ran away from the others.”

Rovanperä leads the drivers’ standings after two rounds. Third place for Esapekka Lappi, on his return to Toyota’s line up for the first time since 2018, propelled the Japanese marque to the head of the manufacturers’ championship.

“Esapekka,” said Latvala, “after being away from one year from rallying, it’s not easy to come when you lose the routine.

“The speed is there, we know Esapekka had the speed, but it’s just the routine that really disappears. It’s not like football or ice hockey where you practice almost every day. It was a very strong performance for him.”

Toyota was disappointed with its performance at last year’s snow and ice fixture in Finland when just one Yaris World Rally Car featured in the top four. Latvala acknowledged it was important to improve on that effort.

“Last year we were not that strong on the Arctic Rally and, of course, it was an important event for us and it was a bit of a disappointment,” he added.

“We came here, we thought that hopefully we could be competitive and we have been working quite well and quite hard and now we could see on the Friday immediately the guys were on the speed and also the car was behaving well.”

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