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Tue 28 Jun 2022

Latvala: Safari success justified Yaris strategy

Locking out the top four places in an FIA World Rally Championship round is a rare achievement in the sport’s modern era.

It had happened only once in the last 29 years before last weekend’s Safari Rally Kenya, when Sébastien Loeb led Citroen to a 1-2-3-4 in the series only visit to Bulgaria in 2010.

Toyota Gazoo Racing rewrote those statistics in Naivasha on Sunday afternoon when Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Sébastien Ogier brought their GR Yaris cars home in formation after a typically punishing Safari.

In a series where we have become accustomed to drivers fighting over tenths of a second, the next best-placed car, Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 N, was eight-and-a-half minutes adrift.

After overseeing the Japanese manufacturer’s fourth win in six 2022 rounds, team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said the lockout vindicated the squad’s strategy in developing the new GR Yaris ahead of the WRC’s inaugural hybrid-powered season.

“At the end of last year we focused on the development, just to make a really strong car and not optimising the performance,” he told WRC.com. “We decided we wanted to make a car which is just reliable and then when we have more time, we try to optimise the performance.

“We could see that [the previous round in] Sardinia was an example where our performance was not the best but then here we see the reliability side, which was really important and needed. The engineers have done a really good work.”

Sunday’s victory was the 10th for Toyota at the Safari and its first four-timer since 1993 when Juha Kankkunen headed a quartet of Celica Turbo 4WD cars in Kenya.

But Latvala warned nothing would be taken for granted as the WRC moves closer to the team’s base for superfast rounds in Estonia next month and in Finland in August.

“When you have success, you keep the feet on the ground you can keep the success coming but once you lift your feet up from the ground it’s not going to end well,” he said.

Toyota Motor Corporation president and team founder Akio Toyoda added his praise to the achievement.

“This event reminded us how important it is to drive through the rally without trouble. Not only the crews, but I also appreciate the team’s support behind it,” he said.

“Not staying disappointed by the result in Sardinia, the team did a great job to prepare for Kenya in a short space of time. I heard some parts were even completed only after arriving in Kenya.”

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