The December 1 edition of Toyota Times Athletes Now featured a live studio appearance by TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala. He shared his aspirations for the triple crown-winning team’s next season in the WRC (FIA World Rally Championship), alongside anecdotes with President Akio Toyoda.
Latvala, who was the program’s first international studio guest, had made a record 209 WRC race appearances as a driver. Debuting in 2002 at the age of 17, Latvala later spent three seasons racing for Toyota upon the team’s return to the WRC in 2017. In his first year as team principal in 2021, he led the team to three titles: the Manufacturers’, Drivers’, and Co-Drivers’ championships.
“Winning nine rallies out of twelve, I could not even dream of the kind of season we had – it’s been a brilliant season,” said Latvala, reflecting on the year’s achievements. “Success doesn’t come from one person, it’s everybody making an effort.” Watching the live broadcast, Akio commented the word, “Teamwork”. A smiling Latvala responded, “I want to follow the same principle (as Akio). At the end of the day, it’s always a group of people behind the success.”
Latvala also received a heartwarming video message from former teammate and current key member of the Toyota team, 2021 WRC champion Sébastien Ogier.
This was Latvala’s first visit to Japan in two years. During his 10-day quarantine period, a package arrived from Akio, containing instant noodles with the message, “After the Victory Cup, please enjoy Cup Noodles!”
Latvala was in Japan for the announcement of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s new team setups, held on December 6.
At the event, he also climbed behind the wheel for a demo run in the GR Yaris Rally1 test car, which will compete in the coming season. Footage of Latvala’s spectacular drifting alongside Akio offered a glimpse of his driver days.
Latvala also told of how, during the run, he had jokingly mentioned wanting to be a driver again, to which Akio replied from the passenger seat: “If you can beat me in the rookie test, I’ll consider it.” As a long-time Latvala fan, Akio had once gone to meet the “Flying Finn,” who was then driving for a different team. When a photo from that day was shown, Akio sent through another comment, admitting to lying in wait in a hotel lobby.
Even away from racing, Latvala’s passion for cars runs deep. Besides personally restoring a rally-spec Celica ST185, he has turned part of his house into a 20-car museum open to the public, featuring some of the rally cars in which Latvala once raced. Even host Kyonosuke Morita was stunned by this dedication.
The 2022 WRC season will kick off on January 20 with Round 1, Rallye Monte-Carlo. “We are going to a new era with world rally cars,” Latvala explained. “With hybrid cars, technically they’ll be different. They will be more challenging for the drivers, but it will be even more spectacular for the fans.”
“We don’t know where we are currently, and it can be that the competition is much harder,” added Latvala, “but we have this team which has a great family atmosphere and we do things professionally, so I know we can go in with a good mindset for the 2022 season.”
Latvala also shared another of his passions alongside cars, something that even inspired him to start his own brand. What could it possibly be?! Apparently, it is not only the smell of gasoline that he has passion for. Check the program to find out.