There was no great surprise when Toyota Gazoo Racing had such a good result in Neste Rally Finland. Their team won for the second successive year, this time with Ott Tanak, and Jari-Matti Latvala narrowly missed second place.
The Jyvaskyla based team were competing very much on home soil, by all accounts the team had everything going for them.
This was the team’s fourth WRC win, but in a way it was really important, as Kaj Lidstrom, their Sporting Director, explained.
“Obviously feeling was good, we could repeat the win from the previous year. It was very special because Mr Toyoda was there, present when it happened.
"I think everybody from the team felt like that was a perfect weekend. Obviously with two Finnish drivers doing Rally Finland, the rally that I think they have done most, and Ott we know he's fast, so that way for sure we have an advantage.
"Maybe information how the car should be in Finland from the past years. Still, I was surprised with the result to be honest. I knew that other teams are stronger there as well. The performance of Citroen, however, was a big surprise for me.
"Even in Finland if they ask me before the event I'm happy if we win, but I wasn't sure that was going to happen, so I don't see that we did have more benefit for being a team in Finland.
"Like any other rally now it's so tight that you never know. We might be in the front, Hyundai might be in the front, Citroen or Ford, so that's good now with the new cars that you know that you don't have this one team that is winning every rally and then the rest are behind.”
Ott Tanak has been Toyota's star performer in 2018.
Back in the Service Park in Jyvaskyla there were questions. Did Toyota have an advantage on this event? Notably, did the location for the FIA approved permanent testing zone, near their home base near Jyvaskyla, give them an advantage?
Did the close proximity of a testing region help? How far away from Puupola is your free-testing zone?
Kaj explained that the zone might be a little bit bigger than for some other teams, but it wasn’t straightforward!
“We have an FIA approved 'permanent test site' but the area covered is a zone of public roads with people living beside the roads. That makes it quite difficult for us. We can use a road maximum twice a year.
"We don't have a private road where we could go whenever we like, and if we constantly went to the same places we would destroy the roads. When we want to test we have to apply for local authority permission to use the road and each permit takes some time.
"We can't use the roads all through the year. In the winter and spring there are very few roads that can be used, but some roads in the zone are exactly like the roads used on the Neste Rally. Two roads are part of the route used in 2016.
"Around Jyvaskyla there is a defined area, some roads in the north from Jyvaskyla and also to the south. The zone is an area, not specific roads. I don't know exactly how big is the area.
"I wish we could drive five days a week and be testing every week, but that's not the case. Let’s see if the regulations will change. I think there will be some change, maybe with the number of days that we can test outside of our area.”
Jari-Matti Latvala appears to be over his run of bad luck.
Looking at the driver line-up as it stands, how do you rate Toyota’s three current drivers?
“Ott is a talented, very fast driver. I'm very confident with him. I've seen him driving for a long time. In WRC2 we drove with him in the same team. I think he's done all his learning, now he stays on the road and he is fast and reliable.
"Jari-Matti (Latvala) seems to have thrown off his recent bad luck and it was interesting to see his fighting spirit in Jyvaskyla. It has been quite tough year for Jari-Matti mentally.
"I told him at the end of the PowerStage in Neste Rally (when he was fighting with Mads Ostberg for second place) that never mind if you are second or third. I think this was a brilliant rally for him when he finally had a clean run.
"As for Esapekka (Lappi) he has done a good job. He only started from Portugal last year, this is actually only his second year in WRC cars. He is so eager to win, but that doesn't happen quickly.
"From his mentality and the way he does things, his approach is very professional. His approach is like I have seen with Tommi (Makinen). I see him as a future champion.”
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