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Jari-Matti Latvala gives Toyota first WRC victory since 1999

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Jari-Matti Latvala’s 17th career victory was one of his most emotional.  Facing the real possibility of missing the season after his Volkswagen team withdrew from WRC at the end of 2016, the Finnish driver made a late deal with Toyota.  He rewarded that partnership by scoring a stunning win in Rally Sweden Sunday.

After a 17-year absence from the FIA World Rally Championship, Toyota is back on the top step just two rallies into their comeback.

Latvala began the final leg with a slender 3.8 second lead over Ott Tänak after leader Thierry Neuville crashed Saturday night. He won all three snow and ice-covered speed tests in his Yaris World Rally Car to extend the margin to 29.2 seconds.

He claimed maximum bonus points from the Power Stage and, after finishing second in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo, now holds a four-point lead in the drivers’ standings.

It is the first time any driver other than four-time champion Sébastien 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.

Tänak, driving a Ford Fiesta, had the upper hand on Latvala Saturday when he closed in. The Estonian was unhappy with his car’s handling Sunday and after conceding seven seconds in the opening special stage, he settled for second, matching his career-best result.

Teammate Ogier was also in the victory fight but a spin in the first corner of the opening test ended his hopes and he finished 30.3 seconds behind Tänak.

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 Citroën C3’s set-up but scored good points from a solid debut in the car.

Elfyn Evans was sixth in another Fiesta, despite losing nearly a minute with an engine misfire in Sunday’s opening stage. The Welshman made repairs and the car ran fine for the final two tests.

The new-era World Rally Cars next 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 (9 – 12 March).

Final results:
1. J-M Latvala / M Anttila FIN Toyota Yaris  2hr 36min 03.6sec
2. O Tänak / M Jarveoja EST Ford Fiesta  + 29.2sec
3. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Ford Fiesta  + 59.5sec
4. D Sordo / M Marti  ESP Hyundai i20  + 2min 11.5sec
5. C Breen / S Martin  IRE Citroën C3  + 2min 51.2sec
6. E Evans / D Barritt  GBR Ford Fiesta  + 5min 26.6sec

FIA World Rally Championship (round 2 of 13):
1. J-M Latvala  48pts
2. S Ogier  44pts
3. O Tänak  33pts
 


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