Friday night’s Rally Finland media zone wasn’t funny. The rain was coming in sideways and summer appeared to have toppled into fall. And there, standing under an umbrella, was the car world’s most important man, waiting patiently for cars and journalists.
When Jari-Matti Latvala told me of the plan for Akio Toyoda to stand in for him while he returned to rallying, I was deeply skeptical.
Surely, it would be a lip-service thing for the cameras. He’d pop in for the odd, prearranged interview, talk to the crews and then get back to what is, I’m sure, an all-consuming day job.
I was completely wrong.
From the moment he landed into Jyväskylä, Toyoda didn’t stop being a team principal. He did every media zone, watched every stage and ended the weekend thoroughly drenched in champagne by a celebrating Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta’s double podium.
In short, he was the complete team principal. He was everywhere Latvala would have been, offering the same insight that’s become trademark J-ML.
It was still, however, quite an eye-opener to have Toyota’s chairman standing before us, with the team’s comms genius Hans De Bauw counting our questions up and our time down with his own trademark precision.
Toyoda’s grasp of the strategy and minutiae of round nine of the World Rally Championship was as exceptional as it was stunning.
From his side, how did it go?
Over to you Toyoda-san.
“During Rally Finland,” he said, “I had four jobs as the alternate team principal. The first job was to talk to the team members. In addition to the regular morning greetings, what I told them were simply three things: [we are] one team, never give up and we hate to lose.
“And one more Finnish word that I learned this time: sisu!
“I don’t get to see the team very often, but we can reach out to each other with these words.
“I said ‘Never give up’ to Kalle when he came back after the accident, and he returned: ‘We hate to lose.’
“After his rally finished, Kalle was giving lots of advice to Takamoto. This shows we are a real one team. I am grateful for Jari-Matti, once again, who has built and is leading such a great team. I want to thank him and the team for this amazing week!
“My second job was to follow the crews on the stages. Takamoto felt I was watching him on the stage and he set the top time on that stage. I felt I was able to contribute to the speed as well! And finally I was able to achieve the podium together with Takamoto which I have long waited for. Congratulations, Taka!
“The third job was to take media interviews. I did quite a few interviews at the stages and the service park. It was a lot of work and that made me realize that Tommi [Mäkinen] and Jari-Matti have been doing this for us, Toyota, and I really appreciate it.
“And the last one was to stand on the podium. They covered me in champagne, I was soaked, but it was a really wonderful experience. I really thank Elfyn and Scott [Martin, co-driver] who made me experience this.
“I already said to them at the podium, but once again: Elfyn, Scott, congratulations! Thank you for bringing me to the podium! It’s not so nice to leave the podium so wet and sticky, but I definitely want to do this amazing job in Japan again.
“I feel sorry for Kalle and Jonne [Halttunen, co-driver] that they couldn’t finish the rally, but I want to get covered in champagne together with them next time for sure!
“Being the alternate team principal this time, I was able to realize that each member of the team is doing a very hard job in each area and that made me appreciate everybody again.
“Jari-Matti will be back as team principal for the rest of the events. We will continue to work and fight together with our special words: one team, never give up, we hate to lose and sisu!”