The World Rally Championship has had its fair share of sporting dynasties in its rich history.
Citroën in the Loeb era. Volkswagen in the Ogier era. Lancia in the Group A era.
And now, Jari-Matti Latvala is on the verge of building one at Toyota. The three consecutive drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles the team has secured under the Finn’s leadership has established the Japanese marque as the undisputed king of the WRC.
Add to that the two additional drivers’ titles and the 2018 manufacturers’ crown secured under previous team principal Tommi Mäkinen, and ‘domination’ presents itself as perhaps the only word fitting enough to describe Toyota’s form since its long-awaited return to the championship in 2017.
Staring across the service park with envious eyes, as the trophies have stacked up in the Toyota camp, has been Hydudai.
OK, that’s not entirely fair. The Korean brand did of course take the manufacturers’ crowns in 2019 and 2020, but for the last three seasons it hasn’t had a sniff.
In response to this less than desirable record, Hyundai has been on quite the shopping spree in 2023. First it chose former Renault F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul as team principal. Then, François-Xavier Demaison was secured as technical director, before the enormous news emerged after Rally Chile that Ott Tänak would rejoin the team for next year to partner Thierry Neuville.
And Hyundai still has plenty of interesting options to choose from when it comes to filling the seat of its third car for 2024.
It’s been an impressive recruitment campaign, designed with one purpose in mind: dismantle the Toyota dynasty and bring both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ world titles home to Alzenau for the first time.
The moves made in the Hyundai camp haven’t gone unnoticed.
“Clearly Hyundai is doing a lot of efforts for the next season,” said Toyota team principal Latvala. “Their mission is to win both titles.”
“We are prepared. We know it’s gonna be tougher next year.”
Asked if he felt his team would need to step up to match its rival in 2024, the Finn was keen to highlight Toyota’s existing strengths, as well as where he knows it can improve.
“We know we have a very reliable car,” he said. “But of course, that’s not enough. We need to work to get more performance.
“But also what I see with our driver lineup is, for me, that our drivers have been very consistent this year. And this has been our strength.
“There are still rallies where we need to be better. There are some like Chile with the tire wear, [which] was not at the right level. That is something we need to improve for the next year.
“And focus on our [other] weakness areas, and just not to do too many changes. Just focus on what we have, improve that, and look toward the championship. And I think it will be [all] good.”
Latvala knows that even if Toyota can keep improving, there’s no guarantee that his 100% winning record as team boss will still be intact come the end of the 2024 season. With Hyundai nipping at its heels, next year’s title fight looks like it has all the ingredients to go right down to the wire.
But no matter what the opposition does, the Finn won’t be distracted from his mission as team principal.
“I think we shouldn’t be too much focusing on what Hyundai is doing,” said Latvala. “We just need to focus on what we know is our strengths, and try to improve those areas where we are a little bit weaker.
“Can we win it? I dont know. Nobody knows! But we shouldn’t be too much focusing on Hyundai.”