Gronholm eyes comeback
For a Finn, he’s as close to a Swede as they come. Born close to the border, Marcus Gronholm is a natural Swedish speaker. He named his restaurant ‘Sagen’ after his favourite stage in the World Rally Championship… in Sweden. And now he’s eyeing a possible WRC return in a Toyota Yaris WRC at next year’s Rally Sweden.
Had the stars aligned, two-time world champion Gronholm would have celebrated his 50th birthday this year at the wheel of a factory Yaris WRC, but ultimately Toyota Gazoo Racing couldn’t make it happen. TGR team principal Tommi Makinen is keen to put that right in 2019.
“It would be fantastic to see somebody like Marcus in the car,” said Makinen. “He could be very fast. We need this kind of story – it’s good for the people and the fans to have this kind of thing to talk about.”
Five-time Sweden winner Gronholm (left of pic, with Makinen) told Autosport he was disappointed to miss out on a Yaris seat in February. “This year it would have been fantastic to do Sweden with so much snow; I would have been starting in the perfect place on the road – I could have been back in the game,” he said.
Gronholm is interested in revisiting the discussions for next year, especially after he drove the Toyota Yaris WRC for the first time at Jyvaskyla’s Harju street stage of last year’s Rally Finland.
“Harju was good,” said Gronholm. “I only did a five-kilometre test in the car before I jumped in and drove it, and the last time I did the stage I was actually quite close to the best time. I was happy with that because I was not driving like crazy. I was thinking, ‘I cannot smash Tommi’s car when I have to give it back…’
“I would like to go to Sweden again next year. And if you promise big [snow] banks and heavy snow, I will be back in the game!”
Sainz back to Dakar Rally
Gronholm is not the only former WRC champion looking at more competition next season, with Carlos Sainz expected to sign with X-raid to defend his 2018 Dakar victory at the wheel of a Mini. The Spaniard will be joined by fellow former Peugeot drivers Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres. Sainz (below) is expected to make his debut in the German team’s buggy in next month’s Morocco Rally.
Next year’s Dakar regulations have confirmed a rule change downsizing the restrictor (from 38mm to 37mm) and reducing the power output from petrolengined cars such as Toyota’s Hilux.