Jari-Matti Latvala won his fourth Rally Sweden to hand Toyota its first FIA World Rally Championship victory since 1999. It was the Finn’s 17th career victory, but one of his most emotional.
He faced a season on the sidelines after his Volkswagen team withdrew from the sport at the end of last season, before finally joining the Japanese manufacturer in a late deal.
After a 17-year absence from the FIA World Rally Championship, Toyota is back on the top step just two rallies into its comeback.
Latvala began the final leg with just a slender 3.8 second lead over Ott Tanak after long-time leader Thierry Neuville crashed on the Saturday night. He won all three of the final day’s concluding snow and ice-covered speed tests in his Yaris World Rally Car to extend the margin to 29.2sec.
He claimed maximum bonus points from the Power Stage and, after finishing second in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo, holds a four-point lead in the drivers’ standings.
It is the first time any driver other than four-time champion Sebastien Ogier has led the championship 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,” he said.
Tanak, driving a Ford Fiesta, had the upper hand on Latvala on the Saturday but the Estonian was unhappy with his car’s handling on Sunday and, after conceding seven seconds in the opening special stage, he settled for second, matching his career-best result, while his Ford team-mate Ogier was also in the victory fight but a spin on the first corner of Sunday’s opening test ended his hopes and he finished 30.3sec behind Tanak.
Dani Sordo was the top Hyundai finisher in fourth following Neuville’s accident. The Spaniard finished 39.7 seconds ahead of Craig Breen, who struggled to perfect his Citroen C3’s set-up but banked good points from a solid debut in the car.
Elfyn Evans was sixth in another Fiesta. The new-era World Rally Cars take on the challenge of high temperatures and dirt roads for the first time next month when León hosts round three at Rally Guanajuato Mexico (March 9-12).
Rally Sweden (8-12 February) – Final Results:
1. J-M. Latvala/M. Anttila – Toyota Yaris: 2hr 36min 03.6sec
2. O. Tänak/M. Jarveoja – Ford Fiesta: +29.2sec
3. S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia – Ford Fiesta: +59.5sec
4. D. Sordo/M. Marti – Hyundai i20: + 2min 11.5sec
5. C. Breen/S. Martin – Citroën C3: + 2min 51.2sec
6. E. Evans/D. Barritt – Ford Fiesta: + 5min 26.6sec
FIA World Rally Championship (round 2 of 13):
1. J-M. Latvala: 48pts
2. S. Ogier: 44pts
3. O. Tanak: 33pts