Toyota WRC boss Makinen backs Latvala for 2017 title bid
|By David Evans||Thursday, February 23rd 2017, 09:45 GMT|
Surprise World Rally Championship leader Jari-Matti Latvala is a genuine 2017 title contender, believes Toyota team principal Tommi Makinen.
The Toyota programme was expected to get off to a slow start on the marque's return to the WRC after a 17-year absence, but Latvala's second place in Monte Carlo and shock Sweden win means he leads the standings after two rounds.
Asked for his thoughts on Latvala's title prospects, Makinen told Autosport: "I have a good feeling that Jari-Matti can fight this year.
"I can make him feel more confident and more comfortable in the car.
"I understand better than anybody else what this means, I have been there so long myself that I know what he is feeling.
"Very clearly in Sweden, Jari-Matti was the strongest man in the world."
Latvala had begun the season aiming for podiums and points at best, but admitted his results so far had forced a rethink.
"Before the start of Monte, I was thinking about a top six there and a top five in Sweden," he said.
"This changes things. But let's see."
OGIER LET LATVALA TAKE POINTS LEAD
Scoring maximum powerstage bonus points in Sweden was key to Latvala going four points clear of Sebastien Ogier in the championship.
But with the points leader having to run first on the dusty roads on the opening day of the next round in Mexico, Ogier said he had taken a deliberate decision to avoid being in that position.
"I had a little doubt he might pull back and let me open the road again in Mexico, so I was quite happy to see him go fast," Ogier joked about their powerstage runs.
"I wasn't really flat out. The target was: 'OK, I need to take three or four points because I was sure Jari-Matti Latvala would be in the top five.'
"He took everything and he leads the championship by four points, but I have somebody making the line in Mexico."
Rally Mexico is expected to be tougher for Toyota as though as it has tested in both hot weather and at high altitude, it had not done both in the same location in its pre-season programme.
The team headed to Almeria in Spain to prepare for Mexico this week, but its test was disrupted early on when Latvala rolled the car.