Jari-Matti Latvala is not going to compete in the World Endurance Championship. He would like to make that clear. He is, however, hoping to be invited back to the Fuji 24 Hours next year.
Along with five other team-mates – one of whom was Akio Toyoda, chief executive officer of Toyota Motor Corporation – Latvala recently drove a hydrogen-powered Toyota GR Corolla to sixth in class at the 2022 edition of the endurance race.
After three stints behind the wheel in the foothills of Mount Fuji, J-ML decided on one thing: he likes endurance racing.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was good to be with the other guys and driving together as a team. Akio started the race and I was second into the car. I had done the 24-hour race at Nürburgring while I was at Ford and this reminded that racing this style of event is good.
“I remember saying at the time that I would like to do it again and now I’m happy I did.
“It was really interesting to be running with the hydrogen car. We had around 300hp and 400Nm torque from the Corolla – it’s a good car. I guess the only thing was that we had to pit quite a lot of times; you have to keep the pressure high on the hydrogen to keep it cool. We pitted a lot of times for this.”
The progress of the high-profile Corolla was slowed when one of Latvala’s team-mates (definitely not Toyoda) crashed and cost two hours’ running time.
“I have to say, I was very impressed with the speed from Toyoda” said Latvala. “When we were in qualifying, he was setting a faster time than me. In the race, I was happy with the progression for the speed. In the beginning I was around one to 1.5s slower than the fastest cars, but by the end I had managed to bring that gap down and I was much closer.
“It was a right-hand drive car, so it took me a little bit of time to get used to changing gear with my left hand and I didn’t drive on Tarmac for quite a long time.
“It was just a shame that I didn’t drive in the night. In Japan, you have to take some sort of test before you’re allowed to race in the darkness – those stints were done by the two professional racing drivers in our team. Next time I would like to drive in the dark.”
“I would love to come back and do it again. I think we can say that I’m not going to become a World Endurance Championship driver! But, from time-to-time, it would be nice to drive this race car.”