Jari-Matti Latvala talks about Toyota Gazoo Racing and the Yaris 2017 WRC
- 15th December 2016, 11:24pm
31-year old Jari-Matti Latvala arrived at the Toyota Yazoo Racing WRC team launch in his home country of Finland straight from testing in the south of France, full of enthusiasm for the latest step in his career.
Latvala is currently the most experienced driver in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Immediately he exclaimed: “This is a very interesting moment for me. The first World Rally Car outing for my co-driver, Miikka Anttila, and I was in January 2003 on the Estonia Winter Rally - it was in a 1999 Toyota Corolla WRC.
“Earlier I had started my rally career in Finland with rallysprints with a Toyota Corolla GT86. At my museum in Tuuri I also have an ex-Juha Kankkunen Toyota Celica ST205 and a Toyota Celica ST165.
“I feel when I come into the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team its like I’m coming home.”
Jari modestly forgot to mention that he won the 2003 Estonia Winter Rally, and also won the last time he drove a Toyota in competition, which was on the single venue Pre Alpi Master Show rally in 2009.
Jari-Matti was jostled by journalists at the Helsinki launch, all anxious to find out more.
Firstly, when you tested the car, which are the areas you think were good and which are the areas you think have some work?
“At the moment when I was testing I thought the aerodynamics was working really well in the car. The car is very good in the braking. Also the engine power feels good.
“The team has only been testing since October on the tarmac. For me when you are building a new car you have to look at the options which way you go with the roll bars, with the springs.
“I think with the suspension on the tarmac it needs time to try what is basically the best way, what is the fastest. Also, the centre differential is something new.
“This gives you a lot of opportunities, but also this needs the time to test different kinds of programmes, how easy it is working from the steering or working from the brake or the throttle and so on.”
Jari, you know how the central diff works. You know from the old cars and you have tested already in a Polo 2017 WRC prototype, so you know how to play with the centre diff?
“I know how to play with it, but the thing is I never make the computer patterns myself. I know how the patterns were in the old cars, but I can’t transfer that to the new car. That is the problem!”
How does the Yaris compare with the Polo?
“That is very difficult to say. I can’t compare it because I have not been on similar roads.
“The car feels different, but if you are faster or slower, how much, it’s difficult to tell. I know for sure we still have work to do.
“I know the car feels very good in the slippery conditions and on mixed surface feels very good, engine power is good, but like I said, the experiment to see the options that you can do with the suspension and the centre diff. That is where the time differences are coming from between the teams next year.”
How did the initial 300km test in Corsica go?
“When I was in Corsica I did five or six runs to get the feeling, then I did the first small change to see how it is. After that I have done all the tiny changes which tells me that the car has a good potential, and gives a good feeling for the future that when you do a change, you see the difference.
“If you don’t see the difference then it is more difficult to work with the car. But this leaves me with a very positive feeling with the car for the future.”
How many test days will you have before Monte Carlo?
“For the rest of this week except Sunday I will be testing, then on the Christmas week we will have maybe three days in Finland, maybe three on snow, one on grave,l and I will have three on tarmac.”
How will the season progress for you?
“If conditions are slippery at Monte Carlo I think that’s always giving more opportunities. If it’s dry tarmac then I won’t be able to test so much’ so that’s a question mark.
“If we finish in the top five in the first three rounds, then I’m really, really pleased. Then of course we’ve got Corsica, that’s a challenging event.
“For Argentina I’ve told myself if I can get to the podium it would be really, really good.”
How will your driving style change because of the new regulations, will it require less sliding than normal?
“I think power and aerodynamics give you basically more opportunities. Let’s say the car is basically more on the ground. I would say that my biggest challenge will be with the tyres, how you can get the tyres to last as long. You should not, however, destroy the tyres so much because the aero pushes the car more down.
“The power gives the car more bite, you manage to drive and set up the car neutrally, which is not too hard for the tyres.”
With the new regulations is the feeling of the driving going to be different?
“It’s going to be different because the cars are wider, you have centre diff, more aerodynamics. I can tell you on the fast roads they are very stable, on the narrow roads they will be a little bit more difficult to drive, and you have to be more careful with the throttle in the slippery conditions.
“So many more things that you have to consider, but also it is giving you a lot of opportunities.”
In terms of technical experience, what can you bring from Volkswagen to the Toyota team?
“If I had been a 22-year old coming to the new team I would not know which way to go. After rallying with Ford and then being part of the development work on the 2017 VW car, you know where you can go with the suspension on tarmac and gravel, you have ideas.
“For sure the car is different to the Volkswagen. The concept of the Yaris is different, how the chassis is working.
“I remember when I went to Volkswagen I tried to make the Polo a bit like the Ford. It didn’t work until I accepted the car was different and I tried to work with that and make it comfortable for me. Then we started to improve.
“You have to accept how the car is. You can get the ideas from the old car, but you shouldn’t start building exactly like it. But I can say because we have almost 170 WRC starts now under the belt, so I have a good idea with things how you can help for the understeer, oversteer, how you can work with the suspension with the diffs.”
How do you think that work with the Japanese people will be?
“OK, not difficult. In my career I always wanted to be in a Toyota team. I think coming to Toyota is a golden opportunity.
“I know that when Japanese people start something they are really standing on their feet and they are really committed.”
How long is your contract?
“I think Toyota is committed in the WRC until 2021, but I can’t discuss my contract yet. At the moment I cannot say anything.”
- Martin Holmes
At the Toyota WRC launch in Finland, Martin Holmes interviewed Toyota's Sporting Manager, Jarmo Lehtinen, and discovered, among other things, that the Japanese manufacturer has a 5-year commitment to the WRC.
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