For the first time since Rally Sweden 2020, Jari-Matti Latvala will compete in a round of the World Rally Championship.
Toyota’s team principal – the most experienced driver in WRC history – has been granted permission to drive a GR Yaris Rally1 alongside regular drivers Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta.
The news will make Rally Finland even more exciting than usual with an extra storyline to follow, but what do our writers make of the situation?
Here are their snap verdicts:
Latvala is back where he belongs
A recent Rally Finland entry list just hasn’t really seemed right. Now? The universe is centered and everything is right with the world again. The Latvala name is back where it belongs: on the entry list for Finland’s biggest sporting event of the year.
Is there any point to Latvala’s entry in a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1? Probably not. He’s not going to score points for the Japanese manufacturer and, let’s be frank here, he’s unlikely to win.
But doesn’t that just make it all the more special? When Latvala took on the role of team principal he did so after conferring with Akio Toyoda and making it quite clear that he had to keep on driving.
For the last two years, he’s endured the pain of watching a brand new car come online without his input – the first time that’s happened in the World Rally Championship for more than a decade. Way more than a decade.
Limitations on testing and car availability meant the 18-time World Rally winner had to content himself with driving Toyota’s first ever hybrid rally car around a car park in Japan.
Not now. Now the dream’s real. Latvala’s back.
Now, J-ML, pay attention. Listen very carefully: do not get drawn in. You and I know you’ll be in a good place on the road when it comes to Laukaa just after eight on Friday August 4. Let the others do their thing. Drive your rally, enjoy the moment and love the love that’s coming your way. But don’t put it in the trees.
In terms of numbers, 18 is a good one. Starting in Jyväskylä means your beloved Rally Finland will equal Rally GB as the event you’ve started the most.
Whatever you do, don’t think about the number four. Relish your three wins and don’t even consider equalling Hannu Mikkola and your TP predecessor Tommi Mäkinen.
Don’t consider it… unless you head for Himos with the front of the field in sight. In that case, channel your inner sisu and GLF my friend.
The sort of story the WRC needs
It’s been obvious since Latvala got the chance to lead Toyota’s WRC team that he was missing life behind the wheel. Now he finally gets the chance to scratch the itch!
And we all get to see what J-ML can do behind the wheel of the very latest iteration of rally car. Who loses?
Although Akio Toyoda is the perfect man to deputize, if I was a Toyota employee I might not be as excited as I am as a journalist. It’s perhaps not the best look for the team principal to be leaving his duties behind to drive a rally car instead.
But that has to be counterbalanced by the extra buzz, hype and excitement Latvala’s entry brings. This is the sort of positive story the WRC needs.
With Rally1 entry numbers hardly sensational at the moment, any extra car on the start list is a positive. Especially when it’s a three-time Rally Finland winner.
We’re all aware of the in-depth discussions about the health of the championship just now, and the need for better engagement. This sort of intrigue and feel-good story couldn’t have come at a better time.
It was inevitable at some point
I have to say it doesn’t feel like a huge surprise to hear that Latvala will get behind the wheel of a Rally1 car in competition for the first time.
You only have to listen to him at the end of each day to get a sense of the buzz he still has for rallying. He might no longer be behind the wheel very often, but you get the sense that deep down he’d like to be behind it a little more than he is at the moment.
And he’s not like he’s a stranger to trying out Toyota machinery since he’s been at the helm, having driven the GR Yaris Rally2 on last year’s Rally Japan.
Getting behind the wheel of the Rally1 car is a different deal though. By doing this he will now have direct comparisons when drivers give their feedback in service.
And it will no doubt increase his ever insightful predictions and analysis on events even further.
I have no doubt it will be an eye opener for both Latvala and fans, but one thing’s for sure – it is very cool!