Jari-Matti Latvala is a Finnish rally driver who entered the world of rallying in 2002, at the age of 17. With eighteen victories in the World Rally Championship events, he is the most successful rally driver among those who never won the world championship title.
He was a championship runner-up three times, in 2010 with Ford and two more times in 2014 and 2015 with Volkswagen.
In February 2019, at Rally Sweden, he recorded his 197th start in the World Rally Championship, surpassing the previous record of Carlos Sainz. until the end of 2019, he collected 208 WRC starts.
Latvala's career started in Scottish forests
Jari-Matti was born on April 3, 1985, in Töysä, Finland. His father Jari was also a successful rally driver, so the young Jari-Matti was surrounded with racing cars from the earliest days. He learned to drive long before entering the teenage, practising with some legendary classic rally cars such was Ford Escort or Opel Ascona.
At the age of 17, Jari-Matti's racing career began. Unlike a majority of Finnish rally drivers, he made his first rally steps in Scotland. He debuted in 2002 BTRDA Forest Rally Championship, driving Renault Clio RS. His first co-driver was Steve Harris and they went off the road in their first race.
WRC debut at 2002 Rally of Great Britain
During his maiden season, Latvala switched to Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI and partnered with Carl Williamson as a co-driver.
After a few podium finishes, Latvala concluded the 2002 season with his debut WRC participation. He and Williamson entered the 2002 Network Q Rally GB with the Lancer Evo VI and finished 17th overall.
Partnership with Miikka Anttila since 2003
In January 2003, Latvala got Miikka Anttila as a co-driver, and this team managed to win their first rally, the Estonian Winter Rally, driving Toyota Corolla WRC.
Latvala had a very busy competitive schedule in 2003, with more than 20 rallies across Europe, including four WRC events, seven races of the British Rally Championship and five rallies of the Italian Trofeo Rally Terra.
18-year-old Latvala joined Ford's factory team
In the 2003 World Rally Championship, Latvala had a 4-race programme with Ford's factory team, alongside regular drivers Markko Martin, Francois Duval, and Mikko Hirvonen. He drove #20 Ford Focus RS WRC 02 at Acropolis Rally, ADAC Rallye Deutschland, Rally Finland and Wales Rally GB.
Fourth in the British championship
His best results were tenth places in Greece and Wales. In the British Rally Championship Latvala was using two versions of Ford Focus RS WRC and he finished 4th in the final standings, with one victory at South of England Tempest Rally. In the Italian events, Jari-Matti raced with Subaru Impreza STi.
Latvala competed in the Junior WRC with three different cars
In 2004, Jari-Matti entered the Junior WRC competition and contested in seven rallies with three different S1600-spec cars: Ford Puma, Ford Fiesta, and Suzuki Ignis. He managed to reach the end line in just two of these seven rallies, with 4th place in Wales as his best result. Championship standings saw Jari-Matti in the 13th position. Jari-Matti added four more WRC events to his career, driving Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII.
Nine WRC rallies in 2005
In 2005, Latvala again entered WRC as a privateer, participating in nine rallies with three cars: Toyota Corolla WRC, Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Ford Focus RS WRC 03 but without any success. One 16th place in three races, (Sweden, Italy, and France) could hardly count as memorable.
Double programme in 2006
In 2006, Jari-Matti was combining Production WRC programme with races under the banner of the Stobart VK Ford Rally Team, which was in a fact the semi-factory team of Ford. For the first three races his weapon of was Stobart's Ford Focus RS WRC 04, and for the Wales Rally GB, he got a chance to drive the latest generation of Focus, which helped him finish in the fantastic 4th place.
PWRC victories in Australia and New Zealand
While he missed his first WRC podium, Latvala scored two wins in the Production WRC category, driving Subaru Impreza WRX STi. With ease, he managed to win races in Australia and New Zealand and after six PWRC events, he finished fourth in the final classification.
First full-time season for 22-year-old Jari-Matti
22-year-old Latvala finally got a job as a full-time WRC driver in 2007, with Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson as teammates. He was driving Stobart's #9 Ford Focus RS WRC 06 in all 16 rallies of the 2007 World Rally Championship.
Maiden WRC podium in Ireland
After two retirements in the opening rounds at Monte-Carlo and Sweden, he ended 13 of remaining 14 rallies and collected 30 points to finish 8th in the standings. He was close to the podium twice (in Argentina and Corsica) and finally stepped on the podium in Ireland, where he finished third behind the amazing Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo.
The youngest winner of the WRC rally ever
In 2008, Latvala was promoted to the Ford's factory team as a teammate to Mikko Hirvonen, after Marcus Gronholm retired from racing. His debut at Rallye Monte Carlo wasn't successful, as he was forced to retire due to severe damage to his car.
At the second rally of the season, 2008 Swedish Rally, he scored his first WRC victory. He was 22 years and 10 months old and he became the youngest ever winner in the history of the World Rally Championship, breaking the record previously held by Henri Toivonen.
Breaking his idol's record
Latvala later stated that the victory in Sweden remained the best moment of his career so far, not only because it was his first WRC win but also because he broke the record of Henri Toivonen, who was his idol from the youth.
Later in the 2008 season, Latvala scored five more podiums. He was third in Mexico and Italy and he finished second in Turkey, Japan and Wales, thus finishing the championship in the fourth place.
Video : Latvala's crash at 2009 Rally Portugal
Fourth in the 2009 championship
The #4 Ford Focus of BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team was Latvala's workplace during 2009 season, again with Mikko Hirvonen as his teammate. Latvala again finished fourth in the championship, with one victory and three more podiums. He won with such ease at Sardinia, leading the rally from the opening stage to the end.
At the 2009 Rally de Portugal, Latvala and Anttila survived the biggest crash in their careers. They went off the road and their Ford Focus rolled 17 times down the hill, finishing its wreckage in a tree. Luckily, there was no serious injury to neither member of the team.
2010 WRC runner-up behind Sebastien Loeb
In 2010, Latvala was again Ford's number two driver, but, for the first time, he was better than Mikko Hirvonen. After 13 rallies Latvala finished second in the championship (behind Loeb), while Hirvonen was only sixth. For the first time, Latvala scored two wins in one season, in New Zealand and Finland. His first win in the homeland was marked by the great battle between the leading drivers and four of them finished with just 30 seconds gap after the last stage.
Three wins with Ford Fiesta RS WRC
The third season with Ford's factory team and the final season with Mikko Hirvonen as a teammate followed in 2011. Ford entered the championship with new Fiesta RS WRC, and only after seven podiums during the season, Latvala managed to win a race, in the last round at Wales Rally GB. This helped him reach the 4th position overall.
In 2012, Latvala continued to drive for Ford, with Petter Solberg as a new teammate. Latvala scored victories in Sweden and Wales, added five more podiums and finished third in the final standings. He missed the race in Argentina because of an injury during the pre-event test.
Latvala and Anttila joined the Volkswagen in 2013
Ford withdrew from the championship in 2013 and this saw Latvala join the Volkswagen Motorsport to pair with Sebastien Ogier in the German manufacturer's maiden season in the WRC. And it was a quite good season for all new Volkswagen Polo R WRC. Volkswagen took the manufacturer's title, Ogier became the world champion and Latvala finished third in a classification. That year he managed to win just one rally and it was his first victory in Greece.
Four victories not enough for a title
The season 2014 was even better. Volkswagen and Ogier were champions again, Latvala finished second with four wins at his account. Although he recorded the highest number of wins during one season, he wasn't able to defeat Ogier, who scored eight wins and dominantly took the title.
One more time just a step from the world crown
The story was similar in 2015. Latvala won three times (Portugal, Finland, and France) but stood no chance against Ogier's eight victories, and he finished second overall, for the third time in his career.
One victory and sixth place at the end of 2016
In 2016, Latvala continued to drive Volkswagen Polo R WRC. The expectations are high but it wouldn't be easy to skip over Ogier, especially after Frenchman's two opening victories at the Rallye Monte Carlo and Rally Sweden. Latvala won the third round in Mexico and the fight goes on but not for long. Later in the season, Latvala scored only two more podiums, finishing second at Sardinia and Finland. He finished only sixth in the final standings.
Latvala scored a historic victory for Toyota
After Volkswagen's surprising withdrawal from the World Rally Championship at the end of 2016, Latvala joined Toyota Gazoo Racing in their come-back to the world's rally scene. He is driving #10 Toyota Yaris WRC, with Miikka Anttila as navigator. After finishing second at season-opening Rally Monte-Carlo, Latvala scored his 17th WRC win of a career at Rally Sweden. It was a historic win for Toyota, the first after more than seventeen years of waiting. It remained Latvala's only win in 2017 and he finished fourth in the championship points.
In 2018, Latvala was on the top podium spot once, in the season-closing Rally Australia, finishing fourth in the points again. As a consolation, Toyota Gazoo Racing won the Manufacturers' title. Latvala also set a record of winning at least one WRC round in every season from 2008 to 2018.
Record holder with most starts in the history of WRC
In January 2019, at Rallye Monte-Carlo, Latvala recorded his 196th WRC start, equaling the record of Carlos Sainz for most starts in the World Rally Championship. In the next round, at Rally Sweden, he became the new record holder. Until the end of the season, he collected 208 WRC starts.
During the season, he was on a podium two times, in Finland and Germany, finishing seventh in the points. He has no seat for the 2020 WRC season so the number of 208 WRC starts is maybe his final score.
Five wins at the Lahti Historic Rally
Apart from serious rallying in the WRC competition, Latvala occasionally entered the races with classic rally cars. He started with a victory at 2009 Lahti Historic Rally, driving Ford Escort RS. He repeated the success in 2010, and again in 2013, but this time driving Audi Quattro. He won two more times at the Lahti Historic Rally in 2014 and 2015, both times with Audi.
One-time appearance at the 24h Nürburgring
Latvala never competed in circuit racing, except for a one-time appearance at the famous 24h Nürburgring race. This happened in 2010, and he was driving Ford Focus RS for FH Köln Motorsport. His teammates were Anja Wassertheurer, Daniela Schmid and Stefan Schlesack. They finished 110th overall and 6th in the SP4T class.