Leg­endary rally name to re­turn

Toy­ota has fi­nally made the long an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment of a re­turn to the WRC

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS - MO­TOR NEWS RE­PORTER

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.

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