Jari-Matti Latvala has explained why he’s chosen to compete with #97 on this weekend’s Rally Finland – his one-off return to driving in the World Rally Championship.
Priority 1 WRC drivers have been able to select their competition numbers since 2019, with Latvala choosing #10 for what turned out to be his final full season.
But as he returns to competition on his home event, Toyota’s team principal has gone for number 97 instead – and his reasoning is three-fold.
And typically for a man of Latvala’s passion for rallying, it has plenty of historical relevance.
“WRC cars were launched in 1997,” Latvala explained.
“My father bought a Ford Escort WRC at the end of ’97 – it was the greatest car at that point I had ever seen in my life, it was magnificent.
“And also ’97 was the year I went with my cousin to Canada, and it’s been the greatest year in my childhood.”
Fitting then for what should be Latvala’s greatest weekend of the year.
Latvala’s struggled to sleep before his test
Latvala had driven Toyota’s GR Yaris Rally1 in Japan last year and at last month’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, but his pre-event test on Monday was his first chance to experience the car on proper forest roads.
The Finn drove 150km [93 miles] over the course of the day.
— TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT (@TGR_WRC) August 1, 2023
“Immediately when I started the car felt easy to drive, it felt very nice to drive,” Latvala told DirtFish.
“We started at 9am, finished by 4pm, drove 150km, I did some adjustments and got really satisfied with the car but already the boys, we took quite a lot of their [setup] but eventually my setup is quite close to Kalle [Rovanperä].
“I had a car that was a bit stiffer which is a bit more precise – this is what Kalle enjoyed and I also took the same.”
Latvala admitted he had struggled to sleep on the Sunday night before, but his test went better than he had anticipated.
“I didn’t sleep that well I can tell you, it was a short night,” he said.
“I was first of all excited but secondly nervous because it was a stage I had never really done on a test, so a new road and getting that feeling of how it’s going to be, how is the car behaving, how is everything going? How am I able to adapt to the car?
“But already after the first run ‘OK wow.’ Even Juho [Hänninen, co-driver] said ‘OK, I’m surprised, I’m positively surprised about this run. It wasn’t as bad as I thought.’ Because if you don’t have confidence with these cars then the driving can be quite horrible.
“Of course towards the end of the day the confidence was coming, the speed was going higher. I can’t go that speed I was going [on the rally] but if we can keep the speed like where it was on the third, fourth run then it will be very good.”