Toyota GR World Rally Team boss claims victory on FIA European Historic Rally Championship encounter in Finland
Classic Finnish stages deliver a highlight of the season to the EHRC regulars led by Tibor Erdi Jr
Wagner recovers from Day 1 roll to score strong points in Category 3
Finnish World Rally Championship hero and Toyota GR World Rally Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala claimed an emphatic victory on this weekend’s FIA European Historic Rally Championship round, the Lahti Historic Rally.
Fresh from making his WRC return on last weekend’s Rally Finland at the wheel of a modern Toyota Yaris GR Rally1, Latvala travelled south from Jyväskylä to Lahti in order to take part in the event at the wheel of a 1990 Toyota Celica GT-4 which he himself restored, joining the EHRC’s Category 4 contenders.
An impressive 43-car entry list for the event saw Latvala line up against championship regulars including Tibor Erdi Jr from Hungary in his Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4 and Germany’s Jürgen Geist in his Opel Manta 400. Another regular contender for victory is Austria’s Karl Wagner in his sonorous Porsche 911 SC from Category 3, which also appeared in Finland.
Right from the outset, however, Latvala stamped his authority on the event as he sought to take the seventh Lahti Historic Rally victory of his career. Having taken the lead by more than 50 seconds after the first timed stage, Latvala and co-driver Enni Mälkönen charged onwards throughout the 12 stages of the event to take victory by a margin of 7 minutes 11.9 seconds.
“It was a very, very nice weekend and I must say that now, coming from Rally Finland, of course I had some kilometres under the belt so the feeling was very easy to start this rally to be fair,” the winner said.
“We built the Celica in 2017 and we have been running it since then. Last year I was the first time with it here, which we won, and now we’ve won it a second time and I’m very, very happy to come here with the Celica. It’s an easy car to drive.”
Second place fell to fellow Finn Marko Uutela in his Category 3 Opel Ascona 400, sealing his position after an enthralling battle with Erdi, who was nonetheless delighted to add to his points score as well as reaching the overall podium.
“Before the rally we would like the second place in Category 4 because we know that Latvala will be very, very much faster than me,” Erdi said at the finish, joined as ever by his Croatian co-driver István Kérek.
“The other goal was not to crash. So we did it! We have a lot of Finnish teams here who know the rally very, very well and we are third overall making a good result so we are very happy.
“The car was a lot of fun on gravel for the first time, and it is my first time on gravel for two years. The first day we had a turbo issue but the team changed it and now we have a little bit of noise in the gearbox but thanks to the team and to the car we are here safe.”
Sadly, not all of the contenders finished with such happy stories to tell. Among the casualties of the weekend was Wagner, who was in fine form until Friday’s closing stage, when the Porsche was pitched into a roll.
“I think it was a big stone which went between the left rear wheel and the brake,” Wagner explained.
“We heard a big noise there for maybe half a second and it put the car a little out of control into the left ditch, the right ditch, left ditch, right ditch and eventually we rolled. The guys did a great job putting the car back together again.”
Together with regular co-driver Gerda Zauner, the Austrian returned to the fray on Saturday and began to reel in his rivals, eventually finishing in 23rd overall and maintaining his lead at the top of the category 3 points table.
“We got some good points for the championship, and that’s why we are here, but always when you go into a race you want to win so it is hard not to be a little disappointed,” he added.
Despite this setback, Wagner’s weekend was less painful than that of Geist, who crashed out in a fast section of the Finnish forest on Saturday morning. The Opel Manta was heavily damaged in the accident and Geist himself was given a precautionary medical check-up from which he was fortunately pronounced fit and well.
Incidents such as these are always a risk on the fast gravel roads of Finland, but for 2023 Category 1 champion Ernie Graham, who together with wife and co-driver Karen, joined Category 4 in a Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800, the rewards are all the sweeter.
“This is our tenth time in Lahti and it’s absolutely lovely,” he enthused. “This is such a good rally: the roads are ideal, like the best of Wales but so smooth. A real pleasure to drive in a car like the Escort.
“It’s our third car of the year. The idea was that we wanted to try for the Category 1 championship with the Escort Twin Cam, which we did. We were hoping to have our BMW M3 ready for this one but in the end we decided to run the Mk2 Escort and it really is a pleasure to drive on these stages.”
The FIA European Historic Rally Championship action returns to asphalt for the penultimate round of the series, the Sanremo Rally Storico, on October 5-8.
1. Jari-Matti Latvala/Enni Mälkönen Toyota Celica GT-4
2. Marko Uutela/Ville Mäkelä Opel Ascona 400
3. Tibor Erdi Jr/Istvan Kerek Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4
4. Pasi Hapulahti/Antti Nordström Volvo 242DL
5. Esa Peltonen/Jussi Salo Toyota Starlet 1300
6. Janne Lindberg/Jan Lönegran Volkswagen Golf GTi
7. Tommi Hannuksela/Jukka Vihtalahti Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800
8. Ernie Graham/Karen Graham Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800
9. Valter Christian Jensen/Erik Pedersen Ford Escort Mk2 RS1800
10 Jari Latvala/Jarmo Mursala Toyota Celica GT-4
Category winners: Cat. 1 Pekka Anttalainen/Antti Hietaniemi (Skoda Octavia Super), Cat. 2 Jensen/Pedersen, Cat. 3 Uutela/Mäkela, 4 Latvala/Mälkönen