Jari-Matti Latvala will succeed Tommi Mäkinen as team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing.
The 35-year-old Finn was confirmed on Friday (18 December) following September’s announcement that Mäkinen will stand aside and take on the role of Toyota’s motorsport advisor in 2021.
The change is part of a revamp in which Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe will take control of the company’s FIA World Rally Championship programme next season from Tommi Mäkinen Racing.
As a driver, Latvala has been part of Toyota’s set-up since the Japanese company returned to the WRC in 2017. He was influential in the development of the Yaris World Rally Car and scored the car’s first win in Sweden on its second start.
He helped the squad win the manufacturers’ world title the following year before his full-time driving role ended after the 2019 season. This year he held an ambassadorial role with TGR.
“I am really honoured to be taking on this position with the team, and by the trust that Akio Toyoda (team chairman) has shown in me,” said Latvala.
“Iʼm really excited to continue the work he started together with Tommi, having been a part of this team from the beginning as a driver.
“Now, as team principal, I have to see the bigger picture. I have to motivate everybody in the team to work together to achieve the best results. Itʼs a new challenge and Iʼm up for it.
“Tommi has done a fantastic job with the team, building it up from zero and bringing the success that he has. Of course, there is always room for improvement and I want to use what I have learned over the years as a driver and work together with the team directors to make this team as successful as possible.
“The 2021 season is just around the corner but the entire package is already there within the
team, with a proven car and the same strong driver line-up, and everybody knows what needs to be done to prepare for Rallye Monte-Carlo in January,” he added.
Latvala is the WRC’s most experienced driver with 209 starts to his name. He won 18 rallies and remains the youngest driver to win a WRC round after his success at Rally Sweden in 2008, aged 22 years and 313 days.
He joins a management team which also includes project director Yuichiro Haruna, sporting director Kaj Lindström and technical director Tom Fowler.
It is Latvala’s first managerial role but Toyoda said Latvala’s enthusiasm and approach made him the best choice.
“His ability as a manager is unproven, but the attributes that we have in common between us were the deciding factors for entrusting the team to him. I believe these will bring the strength to the team.
“When thinking about our new team from 2021, Jari-Mattiʼs face first came to my mind. Thatʼs because there were many situations in which I empathised with him since we met.
“He always thinks of the fans and of his team-mates. Being one of the top drivers, I often saw him running up to fans as soon as he got out of the car at the service park.
“He cared about everybody in the team like mechanics and engineers and always talked to them. I believe this kind of attitude and character empowered the team a lot and helped lead to the manufacturersʼ title.
Latvala joined Toyota after four seasons at Volkswagen Motorsport and six seasons before that in Fords with M-Sport.
“When I first met him, he was wearing Volkswagen overalls, but he talked to me about his old Celicas and Corollas with a huge passion. The following year, he changed his overalls to Toyota’s. As a car guy who loves cars, I still remember how happy I was to see his love for cars and love for Toyota,” added Toyoda.
Latvala takes charge of an unchanged driver line-up for 2021 featuring newly-crowned world champion Sébastien Ogier, runner-up Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä.
Takamoto Katsuta will also contest every round under the Toyota Gazoo Racing Challenge Program. Former Toyota works driver Juho Hänninen will become instructor to the Japanese driver.
“I know him very well and I have been testing with him and sitting next to him in the car. He’s obviously a very good driver, he has many years of experience and he understands the car very well. I’m sure I will become a better driver with his advice,” said Katsuta.