How Latvala’s taken Toyota to the next level

Latvala's WRC experience is helping him extract the full potential from his drivers

Latvala Toyoda

Suddenly the car park seemed much smaller than Jari-Matti Latvala had remembered.

Pulling another gear he was happy as the Toyota Yaris Rally1 around him ripped past the famous Megaweb buildings in Toyota city. Then came the car park…

Latvala tipped the car into a slide and, just at the point where it looked like some senior management metal might be hoofed into the neighbouring prefecture, he got on the happy stick, mashed the throttle and smoked some Pirellis. To the absolute delight of his colleagues looking on.

Just when onlookers thought they’d seen it all, the Yaris Rally1’s younger brother stepped up.

Impressive as it is and, don’t forget it’s on this very chassis Toyota’s World Rally Championship title defence will be based, the GR Yaris is never really going to stack up. Not unless it’s somebody very special doing the driving.

It was. A couple of donuts in and one word went around the place. In unison.


Morizo is, of course, the name Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda uses when he’s competing.

Talking to Latvala afterwards, his enthusiasm knows no bounds.

He grinned “Did you see him? I have to say, I am impressed with his skill behind the wheel.”

You’re not the only one, Latvala. Watch the video of the GR Yaris. Drifting and spinning a GR Yaris isn’t the hardest job in the world, the handbrake and the transmission are made ready, willing and able for such manoeuvring. Doing it without the handbrake and using the car as a pendulum is another matter – even more so when the tires are hot sticky and ready to grip more than give.

When he rolled the window down and started to wave to the crowd, there was a genuine feeling Ken Block and Petter Solberg might have had their day when it comes to turning cars in seriously spectacular circles.

“He loves cars and speed and that shows in everything he does,” said Latvala. “Honestly, I feel very proud to be able to work with him.”

As a demonstration of that pride, Latvala was back in the Rally1 car for some simultaneous pirouetting at Toyota’s promotional event in Tokyo earlier this month.


Toyoda and Latvala share the same passion for cars and rally cars. That couldn’t be clearer when you see them working together. The respect is entirely mutual. The last year has given Latvala a genuine understanding of what it takes to put a factory rally car on the stage. And, continuing the work of Tommi Mäkinen, Latvala offers Toyoda real insight into what it takes to do what he does. Or did.

It’s no surprise that Latvala has taken to his Japanese colleagues so wholeheartedly – or won their hearts and minds so comprehensively.

“The first time I went to see the WRC,” Toyoda said, “I waited for him in the hotel lobby. After that he became a driver for Toyota and contributed to many victories. Then, as a team principal, he achieved a championship triple this season.

“Over the last five years he has kept making the Yaris stronger both as a driver and as a team principal. Next year, it’s a new WRC era with a new car and I believe he will create a family oriented, professional team that hates to lose.”

The reason we made this car is to win the WRC Akio Toyoda

Listening to Toyoda talk expansively about the need for the road to make the car rather than the car being made at the desk is captivating. It’s where the GR Yaris came from.

Having faced down doubters even within his own company, Toyoda has the last word on the need for the world’s most sought-after hot hatch.

“The reason we made this car,” said Toyoda, “is to win the WRC.”

It’s a stirring speech for a group of people who couldn’t be more motivated already.

Having somebody like Toyoda at the top of the tree undoubtedly makes Latvala’s job a touch easier, but it’s worth reflecting on the last 53 or so weeks of his life.


Named as Mäkinen’s successor there were those who just couldn’t see how it would work. The odd dissenting voice reached DirtFish. By the end of the first quarter, they were good enough to get back on the phone and admit they might have been wrong.

Halfway through the season, they couldn’t dial DirtFish quick enough to confirm they were wrong. Latvala fitted the position like a glove.

Latvala’s been clever in understanding the situation he’s walked into. He knows Tom Fowler has the technical side of the story well and truly sorted. The project is perfectly directed by Yuichiro Haruna and strategy and logistical deployment are second to none thanks to Kaj Lindström and Jarmo Lehtinen.

With all the bases covered, what could Latvala add?

Driver relevance, that’s what. Few drivers – certainly not the likes of Sébastien Ogier – have been through the full range of emotions like Latvala has. Look at how he could empathise with Elfyn Evans this year, helping the Welshman out of a mid-season dip to end the season winning Rally Finland like a Finn.

Latvala’s been there and done that. He’s the WRC’s most experienced driver and has shown himself to be a management asset and worthy successor to Mäkinen, the man who made it all happen five years ago.

Words:David Evans