Jari-Matti Latvala will become the most experienced driver in FIA World Rally Championship history when he starts his 197th round at Rally Sweden on Thursday (14 February).
Fittingly, the Finn breaks the record at the snow and ice fixture in which he claimed his maiden victory in 2008, when he became the youngest driver to win a world rally at 22 years and 313 days.
Latvala, who beats the record of Spain’s double world champion, Carlos Sainz, made his WRC debut in 2002. This is his 12th consecutive year as a manufacturer driver and he has a proud record of having won at least once every season.
“It’s a big honour. Starting as a young boy this wasn’t my goal. My target has been to try to win the drivers’ championship but that has not happened up to now,” said the Toyota Yaris driver, who has finished runner-up three times.
“It’s quite special to reach this landmark in Sweden, the rally where I made my first victory,” added 33-year-old Latvala, whose co-driver, Miikka Anttila, became the first competitor to reach 200 WRC rallies last season.
Latvala has four Swedish victories to his name and starts as one of the favourites to add another at the championship’s only pure winter round, which features frozen forest roads in Sweden and Norway.
“Sweden is my favourite event. I love driving on studded winter tyres in wet snow conditions. In the tests I’ve been working hard and trying to get a good feeling. I will really try to give what I have and we’ll see if it is enough or not,” he said.
Latvala identified team-mate Ott Tänak and 2018 winner Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20) as his principal rivals, but cautioned that fellow countryman Teemu Suninen could be another to watch out for in only his second Swedish appearance at the top level.
World champion Sébastien Ogier (Citroën C3) has the dubious honour of starting first after victory at last month’s season-opening Rally Monte-Carlo. The Frenchman could be handicapped by ploughing a line through the snow, creating cleaner and faster conditions for those following.
Double world champion Marcus Grönholm, five times a Sweden winner, makes a guest appearance. The Finn drives a Yaris as a belated 50th birthday present to himself, nine years after his last WRC appearance.
The rally starts in Karlstad on Thursday night and drivers face 19 speed tests covering 316.80km before Sunday afternoon’s finish in Torsby.