Shakedown runs signals Latvala’s WRC return in Finland

Jari-Matti Latvala is officially back competing in the FIA World Rally Championship after he set the ninth fastest time on this morning’s shakedown stage of Secto Rally Finland.

The 38-year-old home hero is swapping his team principal role at Toyota Gazoo Racing for the squad’s fourth GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid on an event he has won three times in the past.

Although his time of 2m01.7s alongside co-driver Juho Hänninen was some way off Kalle Rovanperä’s pacesetting effort of 1m56.3s through the 4.48-kilometre Rannankylä stage, Latvala’s aim was always to enjoy the experience as much as possible.

“It’s great to be back,” Latvala said after his first Shakedown run. “I have really enjoyed the week and getting into the car is a fantastic feeling. Over the jumps [it was] really good.”

In true Latvala fashion, there was a touch of drama to spice up the occasion, as he explained following the first of three runs.

“I had a little exercise at the end of the stage,” he said. “A right-hander was a little bit slippier than I thought and I got a bit of a slide.”

World champion Rovanperä, who is essentially Latvala’s team leader on Secto Rally Finland, was 0.8s quicker than his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans with Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi making it two Finns in the top three on a 1m57.4s.

Asked if he was feeling any pressure competing in front of his home fans on an event he has yet to win, Rovanperä said: “Not maybe pressure but of course there is more will to try to win it. Definitely it is not going to be easy from first on the road, but that’s our target – to try to push for the win of course but still have a good rally to score some good points for the season.”

Ott Tänak, the winner in Finland 12 months ago, was quickest on his first run but settled for the fourth fastest time on a 1m57.5s aboard his M-Sport Ford Puma.

Jyväskylä-based Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta was fifth quickest for Toyota followed by Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, M-Sport Ford driver Pierre-Louis Loubet, Hyundai’s Flying Finn Teemu Suninen and Latvala.

The mixed-surface Harju city stage in Jyväskylä provides the first competitive action from Secto Rally Finland from 19h05. Spanish WRC Masters’ Cup driver Alexander Villanueva has the honour of tackling the 3.48-kilometre stage first.

Photo: Petro Piilo/AKK

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