JARI-Matti Latvala and Elfyn Evans have received warm tributes as they leave their teams for new adventures in the wake of Toyota’s announcement of a new driver line-up for the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship.
PHOTOS: Top, Jari-Matti Latvala; above, Elfyn Evans (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool pic)
Rally Australia 2018 winner Latvala appears currently out of a drive after leaving Toyota, while Evans leaves M-Sport Ford to join the Japanese team alongside Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä.
Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team chairman Akio Toyoda said Latvala was the reason his company returned to the WRC in 2017.
Toyoda said Latvala’s decision to stop and chat at Rally Finland five years ago convinced him to bring the Japanese giant back to the WRC.
“When I visited Finland for the first time in 2014, Toyota had not yet decided to come back to the WRC,” he said.
“I was so excited because it was my first WRC visit and I stood in the hotel lobby to see the drivers in person. Jari-Matti was the first driver to arrive. When I excitedly greeted him, he said a friendly hello.
“While chatting, he noticed me as someone from Toyota and happily talked to me about his Corolla and Celica.
“This was the moment I made the decision to come back. We needed to come back to WRC while such a driver remembered Toyota competing. You could say that if I didn’t see such a friendly VW driver back then, maybe Toyota would not be in the WRC now!”
In a message to Latvala about his time in the team, Toyoda added: “When I heard you would become our driver two years later, I was very moved by this wonderful fate. Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect at the beginning of the season that we could win in our first season.
“The target was to get a podium finish within a year. However, you brought Toyota to the podium immediately in Monte-Carlo. And then you brought us to the top of the podium the following month in Sweden. It was a dream experience.
“I was so glad we could finally stand together on the podium last year in Finland. When I look back at pictures from afterwards, I noticed I sprayed the champagne bottle given by Ott (Tänak) towards you at first. I believe it shows how much I got excited for my first podium together with you.”
Toyoda also had words for fellow Toyota driver Kris Meeke’s commitment this season.
“You have worked hard for Toyota. You always attacked to the maximum and pushed the car to the limit and gave a lot of advice from the viewpoint of a former engineer. This has made the Yaris stronger. Thank you for your contribution this year.”
M-Sport said it bid a fond farewell to Evans, who had long been a part of the M‑Sport family and a perfect example of Ford’s “Ladder of Opportunity” in action.
Evans impressed behind the wheel of two-wheel-drive Fiestas, contesting the Ford Fiesta Sport Trophy in the UK and Ireland and securing numerous championships before progressing to the world stage as part of the FIA WRC Academy in 2012.
Winning four events in succession with the Ford Fiesta R2, Evans secured the title with a rally to spare and advanced to four-wheel-drive competition with the newly-launched Ford Fiesta R5 the following year.
He earned a seat in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC for 2014, securing his first podiums and leading his first rally a year later in 2015.
A season away from the top flight saw the Welshman return with a point to prove in 2017 and he delivered his best season to date, at Rally GB claiming his maiden victory and playing an instrumental role in M-Sport’s championship success.
Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said: “Over the past 10 years I have watched Elfyn develop into a world-class driver – all behind the wheel of our Ford Fiesta rally cars. He’s the perfect example of how a young driver can progress through Ford’s, ‘Ladder of Opportunity’ and we wish him the very best of luck for the future.
“We wanted to retain his services for 2020, but unfortunately that’s not been possible. Having said that, I remain extremely proud of all we have achieved together and the part M-Sport has played in his development. Elfyn has become a key player at the sport’s highest level, and it goes without saying that he will always be part of the M-Sport family.”
Elfyn Evans said: “M-Sport Ford has been a huge part of my career. I started competing with the Fiesta ST back in 2007 and have since competed in almost every edition of the Fiesta developed by M-Sport – all the way up to the Fiesta WRC. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredibility talented and motivated people, many of whom have become lifelong friends.
“Like so many in the championship right now, I owe so much to this small but passionate team. I will take away some great memories and will be forever grateful for the opportunities Malcolm and everyone who has passed through the doors of Dovenby Hall gave me.”