Mon 03 Jul 2023

Latvala stuns rally world with WRC driving comeback

Jari-Matti Latvala will put his Toyota team principal duties on pause next month when he gets back into the driving seat for Secto Rally Finland (3 - 6 August).

Latvala, the most experienced driver in FIA World Rally Championship history with 209 starts to his name, has not competed at the sport’s top level since February 2020. He was appointed the team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing in December that year.

However, with encouragement from Akio Toyoda, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Toyota, the 38-year-old is dusting off his driving gloves to pilot one of Toyota’s GR Yaris Rally1 cars in his home WRC round next month - a fixture he has won three times in total.  

“Well, the story started I think after the end of the 2022 season, when I was in Japan and talking with “Morizo” (Akio Toyoda), our Chairman,” Latvala revealed. “I said that I had the dream to experience a Rally1 car, because over the last 20 years I have experienced all the World Rally Cars and all the evolutions of these cars, but I have no experience of Rally1, and I would like to experience it before I am 40 years old.

“Morizo said, ‘Yes, we need to do it, let's do it!’ But we didn't agree on when we would do it. Then, for this season, we have had this fourth car available for rent and suddenly, in the beginning of the year already, Akio said, ‘Hmm, we can do it this year, let's do it this year!’ Then he also said he will come to Rally Finland, and we thought maybe this can be a good idea. That was how it was agreed.”

Toyoda will take over the reins as stand-in team principal while Latvala concentrates on his driving duties. Quizzed about his expectations for his Rally1 debut, the Finn admitted that enjoyment will be the main priority.

“My target is to have a smile after every stage,” Latvala said, “and if we are somewhere between the top five and top 10, Iʼll be really happy.

“I will go with one test day, jump into the car and then do the event immediately. It is not so easy to get into the car only with one test day. But anyway, this is more about the experience and about enjoying it. I am not building a new career as a driver.

“We need to come with the mindset that we are here to enjoy and to share the passion for rallying and the great emotions. That’s why if I say we are somewhere between top five and top 10, we have really reached our goal.”

Billed as the ‘Finnish Grand Prix,’ Secto Rally Finland features new stages for 2023 whilst still remaining faithful to its rich history and long-standing traditions. Over half of the route has changed since 2022, with 27 per cent of the mileage being totally new for this year’s fixture. In total, 320.56 competitive kilometres are traversed over 22 speed tests.

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM