After being initially frustrated to find himself out of the cockpit, Jari-Matti Latvala has found his feet as the new boss of Toyota’s World Rally Championship team. Writing in a column for DirtFish, the Finn reveals all about life on the other side, and how his team fared on this year’s Monte Carlo Rally.
You can maybe understand that I am very happy following the result for the Monte Carlo Rally. To be team principal for the manufacturer which is winning this great rally. And finishing second. And having four cars inside the top-six. It’s amazing.
But I also take a little bit of a strange feeling from this result. When everybody is telling me well done and sending me the messages, it’s really nice, but I think we have to remember the one person who really did the hard work here.
We have to remember this is still the team Tommi Mäkinen made. He’s the guy who made this team from the ground to the sky. The car, the drivers and co-drivers, all of the team was constructed before I became team principal. All I have done is make some small adjustments. Maybe this will change in the future, as the season progresses. I don’t know.
But I do know that maybe it wasn’t so easy for Tommi to watch somebody else take over the wheel of a car he’d made.
I really wanted to share that with DirtFish readers before I go too much further.
And, of course, it was also a strange feeling for me to be on the other side of the windshield. I didn’t say so much at the time, but now I can tell you – when the drivers and co-drivers were all getting ready for the first stage I was feeling a little bit of frustration.
The conditions were quite nice and it was that sense of anticipation, excitement, here is the start of a new season, a new Monte Carlo Rally. The cars are there, ready with the tires all good to go. It would have been nice to take the seat and drive.
But then a few hours later, so, so early in Friday morning, when it was actually still like the middle of the night and the ice was everywhere and everybody was thinking to the tires they would take… Then, I can tell you, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to jump into the driver’s seat.
I was very happy from my own seat with the team!
Like you know, I didn’t compete so much [in the WRC] last year. I didn’t compete on the Monte and, I have to be honest, I really couldn’t watch it. I was keeping in touch with the times, but I didn’t want to watch it on the television. It was the same on all the rallies last year. I was still so sure that I wanted to come back and that I could come back, it hurt too much to watch the others.
This year, everything is different. Of course, now I watch everything and I’m really motivated to watch how the team is progressing. And I’m actually really surprised at the emotions I felt. This was clear to me when I saw Teemu [Suninen] crash in the first stage. Honestly, the adrenaline was really in my bloody again. I felt so bad for him. Like you can imagine, he’s a Finn and so am I – I wanted him to do well.
The moment I saw this crash, the emotion was a little bit unreal.
The one thing I could do on this rally was help with the experience for the tire choices, but the reality was that – even for a Monte with such changing conditions – there was not so many times the selection of tires was very complicated.
But really this time, it was quite straightforward.
I want to say a big thank you to all of the team and all of the crews – they all did a fantastic job. Taka-san was really good. A couple of spins early on, but I was impressed with how he came back and found very good speed. Kalle was taking another great step from last year and to lead on this event was great for him.
Elfyn, I’m pretty sure, was the only driver with no mistakes. He was so mature, he drove a very strong and consistent rally.
When he talks about how tough it is to follow Séb, he can trust me – I know what he’s talking about. It’s really not easy to follow this guy.
Séb did another fantastic job, but when you look at that first stage on Saturday morning (where Ogier took 17.8s out of everybody in the 11.37 miles of La Bréole-Selonnet) was just fantastic. It was really one of the best.
The difference he can make in these kind of conditions is incredible. He has such a feel for the brakes. I remember looking at this when we were team-mates [at Volkswagen Motorsport]. We would lay the data together and I could see where I was braking compared to him. The problem for me was that I had to brake so hard to get a feel for the brakes, but I would lock the wheels where Séb never would.
Séb has a real feel; he feeds the brake in with just the right pressure and it’s instinctive for him to understand where the grip is on the brakes. You can’t learn this sort of thing, you either have it or you don’t: it’s about taking a feel for the grip from the car through your body.
Séb has that feeling. Now I can see from the other side how hard it is for anybody to beat him in Monte…