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Wed 08 Mar 2023

Latvala supports next generation of co-driving talent

Toyota Gazoo Racing principal Jari-Matti Latvala had a new co-driver alongside him when he contested the Kuhmoisten Sora-Ralli in Finland late last month.

Latvala, an 18-time WRC rally winner turned team principal, wheeled out his trusty Toyota Celica ST185 to tackle the Kuhmoinen-based snow and ice fixture. But instead of being co-driven by usual partner Juho Hanninen, fellow Finn Enni Mälkönen was in the right-hand seat.

Mälkönen, who won the WRC3 co-drivers’ title last year, can usually be found calling the pace notes aboard Sami Pajari’s Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 in WRC2. She is one of several female co-drivers currently taking the FIA World Rally Championship by storm.

Despite nursing a damper issue inflicted by a heavy landing after a jump, the debut pairing performed strongly - winning all four stages to take victory by more than two-and-a-half minutes.

“I could straight away see how professional she is,” said Latvala, full of praise for 32-year-old Mälkönen. “The rally was pretty eventful as we had technical issues, but we had a lot of fun in the car.

“I’m happy to see more and more female co-drivers on rallies and Finland is definitely showing the way, not just with Enni teaming up with Sami Pajari in WRC2, but also with Reeta Hämäläinen co-driving for Emil Lindholm in the same category. Both crews have been shining last season by winning the WRC3 and WRC2 championships,” he added.

Mälkönen revealed she had not met Latvala before the event, but was immediately put at ease by the seasoned star's easy-going demeanour.

“I had not been in contact with Jari-Matti before,” she said. “Of course I knew him, but not well. Finland is a tiny country, and we can quite easily know our successful ones.

“Jari-Matti is an experienced driver. In this case, it was all about having a nice rally and having fun. From that point of view, it was a little different to a WRC rally, for example.”