Toyota technical director Tom Fowler has told DirtFish that he and sporting director Kaj Lindström had to sacrifice their personal pride for the best interests of the team on last weekend’s Rally Finland.
Ott Tänak and Hyundai scored a surprise win on the World Rally Championship’s fastest rally of the season, edging Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä by 6.8 seconds.
The result broke Toyota’s impressive record of winning every Rally Finland since its WRC return back in 2017.
Toyota’s cars are built and produced in Jyväskylä, the host city for Rally Finland, making Finland a home event for the team, despite Toyota motor company’s Japanese roots. Protecting that Finland record would naturally have meant more to its locally-based team personnel.
But although it lost out on victory, Toyota’s cars still filled out three of the top four places, increasing its lead over Hyundai in the manufacturers’ championship by one point to 88.
Fowler told DirtFish: “I need to separate out what we need to do as a team and what we need to do personally because, from a team point-of-view, we should be really pleased.
“It would’ve been possible already on Friday night or even Thursday night, we have things we could do which we know make us faster but increase risk, both from a technical point of view and how we instruct each of our drivers to operate.
“We certainly have more we can give in terms of power unit, we have more we can give in terms of aerodynamic strategy, but these things come with more risk,” he explained.
“And so the only reason to do that would be to keep the record that we’ve always won in Finland. So from my job and Kaj and how we’ve laid out this rally, we need to leave our personal ambitions on the side and say what’s best for the team?
“It hurts, but we need to be pleased with what we’ve done, concentrate on the championship and carry on.”
Jari-Matti Latvala drove for Toyota in 2017, ’18 and ’19 when it claimed the first three of its eventual four consecutive Rally Finland wins. Esapekka Lappi, Tänak and Elfyn Evans were the drivers who delivered the trophies.
Now working as Toyota team principal – and as a Finn himself – Latvala is well aware of how important that unbeaten record was. But Latvala, the most experienced WRC driver of all time, is a firm believer that history is there to be rewritten.
“You know the records are made to be beaten and that’s unfortunately happened this time,” he told DirtFish.
“Kalle [Rovanperä] has also beaten my record [as the youngest WRC winner], so this is what happens.”
Latvala shared Fowler’s view though that Toyota could have been more aggressive with its strategy to potentially push Tänak harder, admitting the team maybe didn’t take Hyundai’s challenge to be as big a threat as what it was.
“At the end of the day, there were little things where we could have reacted a bit more towards maybe at the beginning of the rally,” Latvala said.
“Maybe we were a little bit counting on the performance we had in Estonia, the Hyundai is not as strong over there, but Ott attacked it immediately in the beginning and that made a little bit of a difference in the beginning and we weren’t able to catch him back after that.
“So maybe it was a bit of a surprise in the beginning of the rally.”