Legendary rally name to return
Toyota has finally made the long anticipated announcement of a return to the WRC
TOYOTA was once a dominant force in the World Rally Championship (WRC). Many will remember the days of the legendary Celica on the Safari Rally in Kenya, but the company has not participated in the WRC since 1999.
We have been anticipating its return to the world’s rally stages for a couple of years now, and finally the company has made the official announcement that it will be back, to take on the likes of Volkswagen and Hyundai in 2017, with a Yaris developed and built entirely at its Cologne technical centre in Germany.
Over the next two years Toyota Motorsport (TMG) will continue its test programme with the Yaris WRC car to prepare for a full return to the series in which it won four drivers’ and three manufacturers’ world championships in the 1990s.
The news was announced by Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda at a news conference in Tokyo, where the Yaris WRC made its public debut, complete with new launch livery.
The Yaris WRC has already completed a preliminary test programme on tarmac and gravel stages throughout Europe, establishing a promising baseline on which to build over the coming months. The car features a 1.6l turbocharged, direct injection engine which produces more than 224kW, while advanced simulation, testing and production techniques have shaped its chassis.
With an official WRC programme now confirmed, development will be expanded while the dedicated team of specialists to engineer and operate the car will be increased. Several young drivers have already tested the car and Frenchman Eric Camilli has been selected as the first member of a junior driver development scheme designed with the goal of developing the brand’s rally stars of the future.
Camilli will carry out the development programme alongside last year’s Tour de Corse winner, Stéphane Sarrazin, also a racer in the company’s FIA World Endurance Championship team, and Sebastian Lindholm.
That test programme will include several WRC events around Europe on a variety of surfaces. Experience gained will assist the operation as it prepares a car for the 2017 season, when updated technical regulations are expected to be introduced.
The 1999 season marked the end of more than 25 years of continuous rally activity at TMG, which began life as Andersson Motorsport GmbH, named after company founder Ove Andersson. During that time, 43 wins were achieved with iconic cars such as the Celica Twincam Turbo and GT-Four variants and the Corolla WRC, featuring legendary drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.
TMG stepped back into the rally world last year with the introduction of its GT86 CS-R3 customer rally car, designed to FIA R3 regulations.
“It is a great honour to be asked to bring the Toyota name back to the World Rally Championship alongside our continued participation in the World Endurance Championship,” said TMG president Yoshiaki Kinoshita. “To run two works motorsport programmes simultaneously is, of course, a challenge but we believe we have the expertise and determination to succeed. There is much to do as we make the journey back to WRC but to have received the support of Toyota Motor Corporation and our president Akio Toyoda is already encouraging. We are looking forward to taking the next steps with an extensive development plan and a junior driver development programme.”
The announcement was welcomed by WRC Promoter, the company that manages the global championship. MD Oliver Ciesla hailed the announcement as “marvellous news for the sport”.
“Toyota has a long and distinguished history in motorsport, particularly in world rallying, and we’re delighted to welcome one of the automobile industry’s giants back to WRC. Toyota’s announcement brings a fifth manufacturer into WRC, including three of the world’s five biggest-selling car companies.”
The last season in which so many manufacturers were represented was 2006, but since then the appeal of WRC has dropped among manufacturers with many such as Peugeot opting to invest in various circuit racing championships instead. Even Subaru and Mitsubishi, both stalwarts of WRC in the 1990s and turn of the century, disappeared from the WRC scene, although many privateers still use their cars. The announce- ment of Toyota’s return could well herald a resurgence for WRC as fans continue to flock to stages around the world.
“It’s exciting to see that in addition to the manufacturers already competing in the championship, others are becoming aware of the benefits that engagement in WRC will bring to their business,” said Ciesla.
“There is a clear link between World Rally cars and the vehicles we drive in the street and that’s a powerful marketing tool. WRC is a truly authentic sport and this positively translates to a sympathetic image for the brands involved.”
Left: The legendary Toyota Celica WRC car. The Toyota Corolla WRC in action, below.
The Toyota Yaris WRC car will continue its development ahead of a full WRC entry in 2017.