Jari-Matti Latvala has the chance to match his Toyota Gazoo team boss Tommi Mäkinen’s record of four WRC home round wins at this week’s Neste Rally Finland [27 – 30 July].
Four-time world champion Mäkinen won his country’s WRC counter four times between 1994 and 1998, first in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, and then three times at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer.
Meanwhile Latvala secured his first home victory in 2010 in a Ford Focus RS, and later won the 2013 and 2014 editions in a Volkswagen Polo R.
This week, Rally Sweden winner Latvala will be chasing another victory in Toyota’s Yaris World Rally Car, on a rally with enormous personal significance.
“Along with Monte-Carlo, Finland is the rally that everyone wants to win; especially if you are Finnish,” he explained.
“There’s pressure to do well, but it’s a positive pressure. No doubt about my target: victory. I’m feeling confident, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a big home advantage for Finnish drivers anymore. Now that so many of the stages are used every year, the other drivers have got a lot of experience as well. I’m expecting a big fight.”
As well as being the home round for Mäkinen, Latvala and the squad’s two other drivers, Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi, Finland is also the home of Toyota’s WRC operation, which is based close to the rally’s host city Jyväskylä.
The Yaris WRC grew up in the area too, having completed much of its development running on local gravel roads as well as specific pre-event testing.
Mäkinen acknowledged that the strong local connections, and the enthusiastic support of the home crowd, added to the sense of anticipation.
“Finland is a very special home rally for us, and as long as the drivers are feeling confident, then I am feeling confident too,” he said.
“I think we are well prepared as we have quite a lot of experience of Finnish stages. On the other hand, our car has been constantly evolving so we are always discovering new things. What’s certain is that this rally is going to be an incredible experience for all of us and we’ll see lots of fans on the stages.
“We have a great line-up of drivers: Jari-Matti knows how to win here, Juho is very experienced and fast, while Esapekka is young and hungry. I think they will all be very strong.”
Pictures: Red Bull Content Pool