LONDON – Toyota returned to the World Rally Championship winners’ circle for the first time since 1999 on Sunday, as Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Sweden.
In just the team’s second rally since returning to the sport after a 17-year hiatus, Latvala and his co-driver, fellow Finn Miikka Anttila, negotiated the snow-bound Swedish forests to beat Ott Tanak and his Ford Fiesta by 29.2 seconds, giving the lead Toyota driver a four-point gap in the drivers’ championship standings.
“It’s amazing. A new team, a new car, our second rally and we’re winning. I have no words to describe it, I’m so emotional. We’re at a good level but now we go forward and it gets more difficult,” the 17-time WRC winner told wrc.com.
Latvala’s victory came in somewhat fortuitous circumstances as he was handed the lead late in the rally when Thierry Neuville hit a concrete block on the 15th stage. At the time of the crash, the Hyundai-driving Belgian had a 43-second lead over the eventual winners.
“It’s fantastic to win, but I also feel very sorry for Thierry Neuville who lost the lead yesterday at the super special stage. I have been in a similar situation myself in the past, so I completely understand how he must be feeling now,” Latvala said.
“We know we were lucky, so we need to carry on improving and working for our goal.”
Toyota team boss and World Rally Championship legend Tommi Makinen said the performance of Latvala and Anttila, who won six of the 18 stages contested in Sweden, including the final bonus point “power stage,” was something that they all will remember for a long time.
“It’s very hard to find the words to describe what I am feeling right now — what we are all feeling. Monte-Carlo was an unexpected result (second), but this is beyond unexpected,” said four-time world champion Makinen.
“Of course we were lucky to have this win, but it’s also a huge tribute to the talent of Jari-Matti and the united teamwork that has taken place in Finland, Germany and Japan.”
The win is Toyota’s first in the WRC since Didier Auriol and co-driver Denis Giraudet took their Corolla to victory at the 1999 China Rally.