The second round in the Historic Rally Trophy was driven near Korpilahti where the old Jyskälä (a pet name for Neste Oil Rally) stages ran.In the start of stage one we had a bit of a mishap in the form of misunderstanding the right starting time. I asked the stage marshall if I should start on the next minute. I received an answer which was:“On the next” which meant the next lights. So I missed my starting moment and it took me 15 seconds before I realised that I should have been racing already. When I was finally on the road my co-driver Juho told me to take it easy and said that we could catch those missed seconds later on. Hänninen was convincing enough and I did keep my temper so everything went smoothly. We put the mess of stage one behind us before stage two which was Saalahti, a very familiar stage for me both as a test stage or as a WRC stage. I let the car fly but did not take any unnecessary risks. It was great to drive and my Celica ran beautifully on the roads of Central Finland. There was a minor inconvenience because the engine temperature started to rise a bit which took some of the engine power off. Nothing major. The rest of the stages went excellently and we certainly had fun with Juho, we even had time to give some comments during the race. We won our category (Historic) and were second overall. We lost the overall victory by 4,5 seconds which was slightly irritating because without the mishap and my waiting in the start of stage one we might have had a better result in the finish.
Mesikämmen Rally 2020 had to be cancelled because of bad winter (no winterlike conditions) and Mesikämmen Rally 2021 was under a threat of cancellation due to Covid 19, but the organisers did a great job and the rally could be driven without an audience. There were four stages in the rally. Three of which were driven in the Töysä area and one was driven in Myllymäki, Ähtäri. These roads were homeroads for me. Stage two went past my Granny’s place using the road where I used to practise when I was 16. I was really looking forward to this rally because it was in 2006 when I had last raced past my Granny’s house. We drove my good, old familiar Toyota Celica, as did my father Jari, too. So Latvala Motorsport had two cars in the race.
The competition went well. It was enjoyable to drive in that wintery scenery. There was enough snow and the temperature was properly below zero. I hadn’t raced for a while so my driving was a bit angulated at first until my co-driver Juho Hänninen told me to keep the front of the car inside and make the car come out of the corners in a straight position. Only one note was too slow which made me throttle down in vain. My Dad was also able to drive a harmonious race although I had to grab some snow and put out a small fire under his car at the finish of the last stage. There was a small crack in the turbo oil pipe.
We won my own category, the Historic. We were the fastest overall, but I was having an advantage of driving on home ground. I was glad to see how my Dad drove after a break of two years in racing: he was second (after me) in his category (the Historic) and 11th overall.
Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia) Rally was supposed to be the last rally of the season for me, but because I could not drive there at all we made a quick decision to take part in the Askola race. The organizers promised a good starting number for us so that put the finishing touches to our decision. We eagerly wanted to drive! The engine of my own car was damaged in the Pohjanmaa rally (the turbo broke down) so we had to make a last minute change of cars and we took my Dad’s Toyota Celica St165. The car became ready for only two weeks before the Askola rally so there was no testing of it. During the last night before the race some electrical work was done and it was only 300 meters before the starting line that the final touch in the set up of the brakes was done. Finally it was ¨ready to race¨. There were four stages in the rally, two of which went by in getting to know the car. I increased my speed on stage three and onwards. Before the last stage the situation was interesting: I was second only 0,8 seconds behind the leader, Kalle Markkanen, who drove Skoda R5. The final stage was a very fast road with 1,5 km tarmac which suited me and my car. I decided to attack, drive for the victory and I succeeded. The three last crossroads went so well that even my co-driver, Juho Hänninen, was surprised and wondered how smooth lines I had. We won and beat Kalle Markkanen by 6,2 seconds. It was a fine and well organized race. How great it was to drive an old car in competition with those modern rally cars!
After the Finnish Championship rally in Kouvola, which went well, my Toyota Celica was supposed to have just a minor service and check-up before the home race Rally Pohjanmaa. While servicing we saw that there were more broken parts than expected which gave us more work than we had thought, for example we had to change the turbo. The time was running out but we managed to get the car ready one day before the rally. Now it was time to set the lights because there would be stages driven in the dark. Unfortunately one of the teeth of the front CWP came off and went through the top of the transfer box causing leakage of oil. All of it leaked out. We had only one day to change the transfer box but the mechanics did a brilliant job and managed to fix the car on time. The race started approximately one hour late on our behalf due to occasional delays but finally we were able to start our first stage. But the turbo did not last. I managed to drag the car about 800 meters to the first crossroads but that was it, the race was over. The turbo had been changed, only about 50 kilometers driven, but the car with all its technical details never tells you beforehand when it is going to break down.
The disappointment in the Top Building Rally in August was so overwhelming that I needed to drive again somewhere and soon. We decided to drive in Kouvola because of the fast and hard surfaced roads in the Kymenlaakso area which we liked. I had driven in Kouvola 2007 so it really was time to go there again. Three stages, each of them twice plus Tykkimäki as power stage. Our starting number was 92 and by the time we were starting the race it was raining heavily making the roads slippery. Right away on stage one a slippery left almost caught me and gave me palpitation. It was a bit stressful to drive on stages one and two because the slippery places changed a lot but luckily the rain stopped before stage three and the driving started to feel fun. My co-driver Juho Hänninen did a good job in reading notes to me and his comments every now and then motivated me to do my best. The car was working perfectly and racing was nice. I did not let the thought of possibly breaking wheel bolts ruin my driving. And the bolts did not break! We took the car intact into the finish and we won our category (no one else in our category) but the most important thing for us was the fifth position overall (had we competed overall). And we would have won the Finnish Championship Category 2 with a 30-year-old car!
The Corona pandemic struck the world on March, 15 and took the rallies out of the calendar. Luckily the situation got better during the summer and finally at the end of the summer some rallies were driven. Lahti Historic Rally was to be driven at first but it was cancelled because of the corona situation. The rally was changed from the European championship rally into a national rally which was driven in Lammi during one day only. There were three stages driven twice each (six altogether) and the reccé was done in the morning of the racing day. I had driven the last time in February so I was a bit excited. My driving was not so good but I was not alone with that problem. The break in driving had done its task. We drove the fastest time on stages one and two. At the beginning of stage three our brakes started to get soft and I thought we had a problem with the wheel bearing but all of a sudden the whole tire came off. Luckily the runaway did not hit anybody and I managed to keep the car on the road. Not much damage but we had to retire. The wheel bolts of the rear tires were changed but the front bolts were old. There was some stretching in the bolts of the front left wheel and they broke down. We had not checked how worn out the bolts were before starting stage three. We have to be more careful in the future and check the parts of our rally car properly.
I was in Rally Sweden as a private driver after 15 years. My co-driver was Juho Hänninen and this was our first rally together in WRC on World Championship level. We had high expectations because Rally Sweden was (and is) one of my favorites, but the conditions were poor. That was why they cut the race into half of the original race. We had worked hard to get sponsors for this rally, but we had managed well and we were happy. We felt good.
The race started cautiously seeking for the feeling (stage one). Stage two went better and I found my driving skills again until the troubles started after driving seven kilometers. A cable in the starting engine had been faultily set which caused a short circuit in the electricity system. The engine started to cough and it was impossible to compete. We lost a lot of minutes on stages two and three so we decided to retire. We were so much behind the others it was no use to continue in such a short rally. When the team realized it was their mistake they – together with us – made a decision to give us another go in Rally Sardinia.
Contest was cancelled due the forest fires.
The pressure was enormous when I went to the gravel roads of Spain. Driving off in Wales and taxation problems in Finland were bothering my mind and Manufacturers’ Championships battle needed points. One could see all this in my driving in the morning: no rhythm and horrible to watch. In the afternoon I could be more relaxed and my times started to reach the leading group. But I was so far behind that I was only sixth. On Saturday it was tarmac and I felt more confident because I knew my car worked fine on such surface. It was fun to drive and I tried to drive fast but safe to get the Manufacturers’ points which we needed to win Hyundai. I was 30 seconds behind the lead and could not reach it but I was able to get the fifth position because Meeke drove off the road. On Sunday I came closer and closer to Loeb but ran out of stages and the fifth position was all I could get. Ott Tänak won Power Stage clearly and became second. He was 0,4 seconds better than Dani Sordo. Ott Tänak confirmed his World Championships 2019 victory. He was able to end the 16-year-domination of the French. Thierry Neuville won the race and Hyundai was now 18 points ahead of Toyota in the Manufacturers’ World Championship points.
Traditional forest stages in Wales were muddy and slippery. The rally was driven in the beginning of November and yet it was muddy because the rains in Wales start late September – early November. I should know these conditions because this was my 18th time here but still Rally Wales surprised me. The first stages were sticky and I could not find proper rhythm. It succeeded on stage four, Dyfnant, which was (and is) one of my favourite stages. Good rhythm and good driving but a fatal mistake on stage seven in Penmachno. After a jump, I took a wrong line and landed on mud. The rear of my car lost the grip and I hit a rock which was lurking on the bank. The car started rolling and stopped when the bottom of it hit a tree. The rollbar in the front on the left twisted and that was the end of this rally. This was the first time in Rally Wales that I had to retire due to driving off the road.