Sixteen years is a long time. Too long for Jari-Matti Latvala. This week he gets to scratch an itch that’s been with him since 2006. The itch in question? Competing on the Arctic Rally.
Surprisingly for such a fervently Finnish Finn, this week will only be his second start on the Rovaniemi-based event.
Anybody who saw him at last year’s Arctic Rally Finland (the hurriedly arranged second round of the World Rally Championship) would testify that he was keen – massive understatement, he was desperate! – to get behind the wheel of a Toyota Yaris WRC and join his drivers in setting about the perfect snow-stacked stages through the frozen forests.
“It’s true,” Latvala told DirtFish, “I have been looking forward to doing this rally for a long time. It was 2006 the last time, when I was doing Finnish Championship, so it’s a long wait.
“As a driver, you know that I like to drive and I want to drive. It’s just a shame that I will miss the WRC launch in Salzburg – the team will be there in Austria and I am sorry not to be.”
As Toyota team principal, you wouldn’t expect to see Latvala in anything but one of the Japanese machines. But he’s going to surprise a few this week – he and co-driver Juho Hänninen won’t be in the Celica GT-4 they have used in recent years.
“We are bringing the ST185 [Celica Turbo 4WD] from my museum,” he explained. “This car will have a little bit more top speed than the ST165. In stage number six we have a lot of long straights: 700 [meters], 500, 600 – many long straights and the top speed should reach 200kph [120mph].
“In the ST165 I was around one second per kilometer behind the Rally2 cars – with this one I’m hoping to bring that gap to the best drivers like [Emil] Lindholm or [Teemu] Asunmaa [both in Škoda Fabia Rally2 evos] down to around 0.75 seconds per kilometer.
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“The only thing I’m a little concerned about is with the suspension in the bumpy sections. I might to be a little bit careful there. The roads are looking nice, there’s less snow than last year’s WRC round and a little bit of gravel visible in some places, so it could be hard for the tires.”
Latvala and Hänninen start as car #1 for an event with 10 stages split evenly across Friday and Saturday. Much of the route is common to last year’s WRC counter, with day two’s 28-mile opener Ahmavaara a good way to wake up for the weekend.