I’d softened Jari-Matti Latvala up with a couple of looseners, nothing too stressful. He’d swatted them away with complete comfort. So I pitched one in short. A bouncer. Up into the ribs. Let’s see how Mr Team Principal man can deal with this.
Back foot. Big swing. Hello boundary. Six runs.
We were in the middle of Arctic Rally Finland and I suggested that Toyota couldn’t have got this one more wrong and he was about to go from hero to zero, losing a rally in their own backyard.
He took a breath, then fired back an answer so comprehensive there was nowhere for me to go. After a brief discussion about temperatures and test roads, he directed me to split times and talked in depth about the nature of the roads where the car was suited and why it was suited. And why it might or might not be so suited on the other roads.
Then he talked running order. Bigger picture, championship considerations and more. And more.
It would have been easy to have been blinded by a magnificent Monte, but you suspect the most likeable of Finns will have no bother keeping his feet on the ground.
“Monte Carlo, we had an amazing start,” he said. “I didn’t expect that. What a great way to start. But then you also have to accept that when there is a rally you think you are strong but you are not, you have to accept that this just can happen sometimes. Every day is not the best day in the office.
The line he has positioned himself in has been absolutely spot on.Tom Fowler on Latvala
“Rovaniemi [Arctic Rally Finland] wasn’t the event which we were basically anticipating, but well, this is the great part of rallying – sometimes you know that it brings you surprises when you don’t want, but you have to understand that also there are days when you expect things to be good for you, they are not working like this.”
And when he’d finished. He turned his rubber boots in the direction of the door and departed.
Latvala the driver had very much turned Latvala the team principal.
And it’s not just me who noticed. Toyota’s technical director Tom Fowler is delighted.
“It’s gone really well,” said Fowler. “I’m really happy with the situation and I think he is really happy with the situation. He’s a different person in himself, he’s more relaxed and more confident. It helps that everybody knew him as a driver in this team before.
“The role he is doing is really good, he’s really good at expressing what has happened to the team to the media in a way that’s engaging for the fans and for everybody to understand. That’s really positive for us.
“He also comes to the factory to see what we’re doing in a very positive way and he’s very motivating for people to speak to inside and outside the factory. It’s working really well.”
At the start of the season, Latvala said he wouldn’t be poking his nose into debriefs. His team principal at Volkswagen, Jost Capito, never did and J-ML wanted to demonstrate a similar level of confidence in his technical team by not being part of the process.
But he couldn’t help himself.
“He does come to the debrief, and it’s really good that he can add to the discussion on, for example, the center differential,” said Fowler.
“He can tell us from his experience it might help to run it more open on this rally or that stage.
“He’s not coming along and telling us how many friction faces or what type of carbon we should be using. The line he has positioned himself in has been absolutely spot on.”