Jari-Matti Latvala says Esapekka Lappi’s fourth-place finish on Rally Finland was “the performance that we wanted” and was enough to prove he should be part of the team’s 2022 World Rally Championship line-up.
Lappi’s one-off appearance in a rented, fifth Toyota Yaris WRC, his first start in a World Rally Car in 10 months, was seen as an audition to share the third works entry with Sébastien Ogier next year when the seven-time WRC champion scales back his commitment.
The one-time WRC event winner was part of the lead fight on the opening day and, though he ended up a lonely fourth, he recorded seven top-three stage times – including the third-fastest time on the points-paying powerstage.
Latvala said “in my eyes” Lappi should be among Toyota’s 2022 line-up based on that result, but added that the decision will be made by Toyota bosses and communicated this month. DirtFish understands that could be in the coming days.
Though Lappi has been rumored to be in the frame since June, it is the firmest indication yet that he will return to Toyota as a factory driver for the first time since 2018.
“We said that if he can be in the top five that would be enough,” Latvala told DirtFish.
“He was fourth overall and did a great powerstage. For me, that is the performance that we wanted and in my eyes, that is enough now that I personally would propose for him to be [part of] our driver line-up for next year.
I can say that the deal is quite closeEsapekka Lappi
“But the decision will be made in Japan, so I can propose, but they will decide. I can tell you that we will hear news during this month, but they will decide in Japan.”
Asked if he expected Toyota’s 2022 drivers to be Elfyn Evans, Kalle Rovanpera, Ogier and Lappi, Latvala said: “It’s likely, but still there is even the possibility for changes.”
Like Latvala, Lappi suggested a final decision had not been made.
“Unfortunately I can’t, but I can say that the deal is quite close,” he said, when asked if he could confirm that he would share a car with Ogier.
“They wanted to analyze my performance, and if this is not enough then I don’t deserve it.”
He said he was “90%” happy with his rally, having not recorded a stage win, but felt “it was a really strong performance from us, very consistent throughout the weekend”.
“Yesterday [Saturday] morning was a bit bad from our side, but I just wasn’t brave enough to drive [as quickly as the pacesetters] – I felt a lack of grip, so it was taking the confidence away a bit,” he said.
“But other than that, really good.”