Six days on from watching his team finish second in Finland’s round of the World Rally Championship, Jari-Matti Latvala put Toyota’s record straight with a commanding victory on the Lahti Historic Rally.
Latvala guided his Toyota Celica GT-4 to a commanding victory on the two-day event, winning all 12 stages.
“It was really nice to win,” Latvala told DirtFish, “but I think it might have been a little bit easier for me than for the guys last week!”
Latvala admitted this weekend’s Lahti event had helped him through Rally Finland week.
“You know I love to drive,” he said. “And missing Rally Finland is always the toughest one of the season – knowing I had Lahti to come to just a few days later was a big help.”
Co-driven as usual by Toyota test driver Juho Hänninen, he relished the return to a rally he’s won five times in the past.
“This year we were using some of the stages we ran on Rally Finland in 2011 and 2012,” said Latvala. “They are really nice roads – but this event wasn’t quite so straightforward for me this year. Yes, we did well, but there was another story as well.”
Tell us the story.
“It was starting with the first stage,” explained the 18-time world rally winner. “We lost the oil filter from the gearbox and then we lost the oil. I knew this was a strong gearbox – it’s the original homologated ’box from Xtrac – so I wasn’t so worried. It meant we didn’t have the centre diff in the car, so it was really in rear-wheel drive for the first loop of three stages.
“When we came to service, we found something a little bit worse. The engine was sounding a little bit strange on idle and it turned out some bearings had worn out – when we pushed the clutch, we were actually moving the crankshaft!
“I said to the boys at this time that I didn’t want to stop. I knew I had to drive the rest of the day without using the clutch at all. I usually make downshifts without the clutch, but now I had to do upshifts as well – and on the road section! It didn’t feel so nice, but as long as you could get the revs correct and then be quite aggressive with the ’box it was OK.”
While Latvala was busy winning the rest of the day’s stages, his mechanics had been back to the team’s base and located new bearings for the event of Friday service.
“Honestly,” said Latvala, “I don’t remember a busier service for a long time. I am so proud and so grateful to the team for keeping Juho and me in the rally. They changed the bearings, really a big job and we only got 1m30s of penalties (for being nine minutes late out of service).
“My father was competing in another Toyota and he had some problems with the propshaft on his car. I had five of the mechanics on my car and only one on his, so I was getting my hands dirty and trying to fix his car as well!”
The J-ML Celica was back on song on Saturday morning.
“With the car perfect again,” said Latvala, “I decided it would be a bit like the old days when I was a WRC driver. I attacked quite hard. At the end of the stage, Juho said to me: “I felt you were pushing a bit more. I didn’t like to look up, so I just kept reading!”
“I really enjoyed the event. It was a bit of a challenge, but it’s always great to win on these roads.”
Look and learn, Kalle and co.