When Carlos Sainz was chasing Didier Auriol through northern Italy in the hunt for a 1991 Sanremo Rally win, he probably didn’t imagine that same Toyota Celica GT-Four would be used to win last Saturday’s Askolan Granit Rally in Finland.
Step forward Jari-Matti Latvala, slayer of modern R5 machinery in a 29-year-old car.
But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s not even the beginning. Recently rebuilt and looking absolutely pristine, this Celica had just settled into its retirement in the Latvala museum.
It was a short retirement.
“That one is my father’s car,” said Latvala. “We had finished it and put it away. It’s so nice. I was doing the event in my own Celica, but on the last rally, I had a problem with the turbo. The turbo blew and some pieces went to the engine and did some damage.
“Two days before the start I said: ‘OK! We go for it, we take my father’s car from the museum and we do the rally.’
“Unfortunately, the weather was quite snowy and icy, so there was not so much time to make a test with the car. Then I had to go to some meetings in Helsinki and it was all a big rush. In the end, we had 300 metres of gravel road before the first stage for me to find some brake balance. I was locking the wheels and turning the bias – it was too much to the rear. In the end, at the last go, I said to Juho [Hänninen, co-driver] that I thought it was OK.
“’Jari-Matti,’ he said. ‘I think it’s fine now. Let’s go.’
“We were running as the first car on the road which was quite tricky. The road was a lot like Rally GB, quite slippery and greasy on top. In the next stage I was too careful; Juho told me I was too much sideways, I needed to keep the front of the car more in the corner – stop throwing the car at it. I did this in the third stage and the confidence came.”
With one stage remaining, Latvala was second – 0.8s behind Kalle Markkanen’s Škoda Fabia R5.
“I took a big attack in the last stage,” said Latvala. “Or I did once I came to the gravel. The first 1.5 kilometres of the stage was on Tarmac and when we were going to the start, Juho said to me: ‘Jari-Matti, you are now a bit older, let’s take it a little bit more steady on the Tarmac. I’m not so comfortable; let’s not crash…’
“When we came from the Tarmac to the gravel, he said ‘thank you’ between the notes!
“I really enjoyed this rally, it was a lot of fun and really nice to drive the Celica again.”
Was he surprised to beat R5 cars with his father’s ex-Sainz motor fresh from the museum?
“I always thought it would be possible.
“But to win this rally was one thing – to go away and try to race with Emil Lindholm or those kind of guys in the latest R5 cars, I don’t think it would be possible to win. For one thing, we simply don’t have the suspension travel.
“For me, this kind of thing gives really big enjoyment. To take historic car like this one and try to win against R5 cars gives a lot more satisfaction than if I drove the R5 car and won by 30 seconds or something.”
It was also the first success in the co-driving seat for Hanninen, who was selected alongside Latvala to drive for Toyota when it returned to the World Rally Championship in 2017. That season only provided one podium in the direction of Hanninen, who did not go to the final round in Australia in what due to be his only full campaign in a World Rally Car.
He had won the WRC2 title (when it was known as SWRC) in 2011 and was champion in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and European Rally Championship in the years either side.