It actually seemed a bit harsh to ask the question of a famous Finn knocked out of the competition in the qualifying rounds. But I asked Jari-Matti Latvala anyway.
We’ve all seen WRC.com’s superb competition to involve fans in the vote to decide who really is the greatest rally driver of all time. Latvala lost to Petter Solberg early doors and I suspected it could be a slightly irate J-ML who answered my call.
Typically, he was his serene self.
Far too modest to be miffed about his own absence from the latter rounds of the World Rally Championship’s GOAT competition, it was missing the man who departed 34 years ago today (Saturday) that I thought would get Jari-Matti’s goat.
Latvala is, of course, the biggest fan of countryman Henri Toivonen, who died along with his co-driver Sergio Cresto when their Lancia Delta S4 went off the road on the 1986 Tour de Corse.
While his speed had dominated the early part of ’86 (following a debut S4 win on the RAC in 1985), he hadn’t quite captured enough wins to get him into the WRC.com scrap.
But, here’s the thing, Latvala has a confession to make: he wouldn’t have voted for Henri.
“If the vote was for the bravest driver in the history of the championship,” Latvala told DirtFish, “then for sure I would have voted for Henri. I remember this picture from the 1984 Costa Smeralda Rally, when he had injured his foot and he had the picture taken on the roof of the Porsche 911 he’d used to win the rally. Leaning against the door were the crutches he needed to walk on!
“Henri was a real character and this is another thing that made him special for the sport. We need guys like him and Colin McRae and Markku [Alén]. But for Henri to drive a rally like that one in Sardinia (Costa Smeralda) with only one foot shows what he was like. And the same in Monte , when he had the road accident and he drove in such pain. Incredible.”
Come on then, if Toivonen’s bravest, who gets the Jari-Matti GOAT vote?
“I know what you are thinking: ‘How can the Finn vote this way…’ But if you want the greatest, then you have to go with Sébastien Loeb. He won nine titles all with one manufacturer, but the way he did it was so strong. He was always there, no mistakes and always able to come back if something happened.
“At the same time, he’s such a good guy as well. Always very humble and very honest. I like Séb and, for me, he’s the greatest.”
Latvala added that there had been surprises through the competition, adding: “I lost to Petter, but we know how good and how very popular Petter always was all over the world. I thought Petter might go further (Solberg lost to Juha Kankkunen), but also Tommi [Mäkinen]. I was surprised a little bit when he lost to Carlos Sainz.”
The GOAT final is between Sainz and Loeb. Head to wrc.com to cast your vote and decide the outcome.