Fifteen years ago it didn’t matter so much. Jari-Matti Latvala was at the beginning. Today it matters more.
Today – Monday January 20 – is the first time in a decade and a half the Finn wasn’t behind the wheel of a recce car on the opening round of the World Rally Championship.
World rallying’s most experienced driver woke up at home thinking about just that. He went for a run, took his mind off it and got on with his day.
Then DirtFish called and asked him to get his mind back on it.
“When I woke up,” Latvala said, “I thought to myself: ‘I’m at home – normally I shouldn’t be here…’
“It started yesterday, when I was thinking that I should be flying to Nice, checking into the same hotel all of the drivers use and meeting everybody for the first time in the season. It’s not such a nice feeling.
“Somebody asked me if I would be going to Monte Carlo, but I can’t. It’s too soon and my mind is not ready. If my mind was thinking to retire then it would be no problem and I could go, but it’s not like this. I’m not ready to retire.”
Latvala doesn’t usually place too much emphasis on words. He emphasized those last five like never before.
“I will watch the rally,” he continued. “I will stay in touch with what’s going on, that’s interesting.
“But if I was there then I would be looking to the weather, thinking all the time about the tyres and all of these things and then I would remember again that I have no car. No, it’s too soon and I have to focus my efforts to Sweden.”
Latvala’s Latvala Motorsport entry in a Toyota Yaris WRC is in for round two and he’s now busy building budget towards Rally Italy, the next European event after Torsby.
“Everything is coming together for Sweden,” he said. “We have more meetings with sponsors and Sardinia is looking positive as well.”
In the meantime, the man who started 202 of 205 WRC rounds with Latvala, his co-driver Miikka Anttila was busy slotting a first podium of the season on the Arctic Lapland Rally in Rovaniemi on Saturday.
Anttila is co-driving Eerik Pietarinen for some winter rallies aboard a Skoda Fabia R5 evo.
From the picture below, Anttila is decidedly more chuffed with their third place than his driver.
For Latvala, he’s taken the unique approach of taking another driver in the right-hand seat for Sweden; Juho Hänninen will co-drive Latvala on a WRC round for the first time next month.
“Juho has done a lot of testing with me and some events in the [Toyota] Celica [GT-4],” said Latvala. “He is the only driver I know who can stay in the car with another driver.
“It’s a good benefit for me. Juho is still the Toyota test driver, so he knows the Yaris well and he’s a very, very good co-driver.
“OK, if we were doing Monte, maybe it would be a bit tricky, but in the fast places like Sweden or Finland it’s no problem for him.”