Why Toyota is heading north in search of more snow speed

Father Christmas will play host to this week's Arctic Lapland Rally and Toyota will be there in force

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Late? Early? It doesn’t really matter. Joulupukki will be there. When Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans arrive in Rovaniemi this week, Father Christmas will be waiting for them.

And Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala has a request for the fella in red: he wants a late/early Christmas present. He wants a good test in Lapland this week and he really wants the Sweden win his squad missed out on last year.

Admittedly, Rovanperä’s 2023 Swedish charge was slowed slightly as part of a masterplan to avoid running first on the road at the following gravel event in México, but it’s fair to say the GR Yaris Rally1 was outplayed in the snow 12 months ago. There wasn’t Toyota on the podium last year – which is why world champion Rovanperä is making his maiden competitive outing in Lapland this week.

“Last year we couldn’t win Sweden and the important thing is that snow is like home for us; we want to be on top of the game for snow events,” said Latvala, who will drive his own Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD in Rovaniemi this week.

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This week won't be the Toyota team's first visit to see Joulupukki

It’s nothing new for Toyota to use the second round of the Finnish Championship as a Sweden test. Rovanperä did the same in 2020 with the Yaris WRC, subsequently delivering a maiden WRC podium in Värmland a month later.

“This Arctic is very important,” continued Latvala, “for Elfyn, for his overall championship. But Kalle, after missing the Monte, being back in the speed in Sweden is very important. When we have a driver who is doing half a season, we need to make sure he has the best possibilities to go there and fight for the victory because we need the points for the manufacturers’ championship.”

For Evans, the focus will partly be on the second run of stages in the Arctic Circle on Friday and Saturday.

The Welshman told DirtFish: “It didn’t go quite to plan in Sweden last year, so we want to try and find a better feeling in the snow – especially on the second pass running. Of course, to get mileage on this type of specific event is really important and we need to try and make the most of it.”

Kalle Rovanperä

Toyota's GR Yaris Rally1 didn't have the podium speed last time out in Sweden

There is of course a third driver in Toyota’s Sweden lineup: Takamoto Katsuta. He won’t be competing but he’s bracing the freezing conditions of the Arctic Circle regardless.

Katsuta said: “In terms of how it’s going in the testing, I will also follow Kalle and Elfyn doing the test rally in Lapland. I won’t do it but I’ll follow the data and things and hopefully they can improve the car also.”

Hyundai had been thinking on the same lines. Esapekka Lappi is in the same boat as Rovanperä, making his first start of the year on Swedish snow. The Finn won’t be making the journey north.
Asked if he wanted to go, Monte Carlo Rally winner Thierry Neuville said: “It’s not possible. “Esapekka [Lappi] was supposed to go, but there is no car available.”

Not that fans need more than two factory GR Yaris Rally1s and a Latvala-wheeled ST185 to get excited, but there are five GR Yaris Rally2s competing – with Toyota Challenge Program drivers Yuki Yamamoto and Hikaru Kogure making their maiden appearance in the most talked about new category car in years. And round one winner in Finland, Roope Korhonen has made the switch from a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 to a GR Yaris Rally2.

A packed entry will tackle a 126-mile route across Friday (February 2) and Saturday. Saturday afternoon’s Sarriojärvi stage is the longest of the event at 20 miles.

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The Arctic Rally starts out of city of Rovaniemi in Finland's most northerly province of Lapland