Toyota headquarters is surely the place to be right now as they celebrate the Rally Sweden victory — only two rallies into the team’s comeback following a 17-year absence from WRC, with Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala at the helm.
Their victory on February 12 marks Latvala’s fourth victory at Rally Sweden, and his 17th career victory, and no doubt it will also be one of his most emotional. Facing a season on the sidelines after his Volkswagen team withdrew from the sport at the end of last season, Japanese manufacturer Toyota announced a return to WRC and quickly signed Latvala in a late deal.
Latvala went into the final leg with a close 3.8s lead over Ott Tänak — long-time leader Thierry Neuville crashed out the night before. He claimed all three snow- and ice-covered speed tests behind the wheel of his Yaris World Rally Car to extend the margin to 29.2s.
Maximum bonus points were picked up on the power stage, and — after taking a second place finish at the season-opener, Rallye Monte-Carlo — had a four-point lead in the drivers’ championship — the first time any driver other than four-time champion Sébastien Ogier has led since February 2014!
“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. Mexico is next up and I’m really motivated for the championship,” said Latvala.
Tänak, driving a Ford Fiesta, looked to have one-upped the Finn the previous day, however the Estonian claimed to be unhappy with his car’s handling on the final day and conceded seven seconds as a result — settling for a matching career-best of second.
Also fighting for victory was teammate Sébastien Ogier, but he finished 30.3s behind Tänak after a spin in the first corner of the opening test ended his hopes.
Dani Sordo was the top Hyundai finisher in fourth, 39.7s ahead of Craig Breen, with Elfyn Evans sixth. Kiwi Hayden Paddon was just 4.6s behind in his Hyundai i20 coupe, with Stéphane Lefebvre, WRC 2 winner Pontus Tidemand, and Teemu Suninen completing the leaderboard.
These new-era WRC cars will face scorching temperatures and unforgiving dirt roads for the first time next month when León hosts round three at Rally Guanajuato Mexico (March 9–12).