MAKI­NEN WANTS STAR NAME FOR TOY­OTA WRC

Pho­tos: Red Bull Con­tent Pool, mck­lein-im­age­database.com Finn is strug­gling with top driv­ers un­der con­tract next year

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By David Evans

Toy­ota team prin­ci­pal Tommi Maki­nen will talk to two of the gi­ants of world ral­ly­ing in an ef­fort to find a team leader for the Ja­panese firm’s re­turn next sea­son.

With the sport’s lead­ing names – apart from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville – all un­der con­tract next sea­son, Maki­nen told Mo­tor­sport News his driver line-up was caus­ing him some­thing of a headache.

The Finn has al­ready talked to 2003 World Rally cham­pion Pet­ter Sol­berg and ad­mits he will be call­ing Se­bastien Loeb to dis­cuss the chances of bring­ing the nine-time cham­pion back.

Maki­nen was with Sol­berg in Fin­land last month and talked about the chances of get­ting Sol­berg in a Yaris WRC.

Maki­nen told MN: “We dis­cussed dif­fer­ent plans with Pet­ter. We know Pet­ter is a world cham­pion and a fast driver.”

Asked di­rectly, if it was pos­si­ble Sol­berg could test the Yaris this year, Maki­nen said: “Why not? I don’t know. He is run­ning his ral­ly­cross team and do­ing the cham­pi­onship again, but maybe some­thing is pos­si­ble.”

Sol­berg told MN his plans were to de­fend his FIA World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship this sea­son, but added that his fu­ture projects be­yond this sea­son re­mained un­clear.

“There are some dif­fer­ent op­tions for next sea­son,” Sol­berg told MN. “There’s no doubt the fu­ture for ral­ly­cross is ex­cit­ing and some of the op­tions we have in this cham­pi­onship are re­ally in­ter­est­ing. But, maybe there is still some un­fin­ished busi­ness in the WRC. It’s in­ter­est­ing to talk to Tommi and to hear about the big plans Toy­ota has.”

Sol­berg won his world ti­tle in Maki­nen’s fi­nal year in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship, when they were team-mates at Subaru. The pair have al­ways en­joyed a pro­duc­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

Loeb is un­der con­tract to Peu­geot, but sources have sug­gested that the French­man join­ing Toy­ota is not out of the ques­tion. “I haven’t seen or spo­ken with Se­bastien yet,” said Maki­nen. “There are a lot of ru­mours around, but so far I haven’t done any­thing. If Se­bastien would be in­ter­ested to do some­thing then of course I want to talk to him. We know he is one of the best driv­ers ever and still do­ing very well and con­tin­u­ing to drive.”

Maki­nen has re­vealed that he opened ne­go­ti­a­tions with Se­bastien Ogier in Fin­land last year, but soon re­alised that door was shut.

“I spoke with him in Fin­land and it’s very clear his con­tract is un­til the end of 2017,” said Maki­nen. “Ev­ery­body is al­ways look­ing at win­ners and the best op­tion for us is to have Se­bastien Ogier be­hind the steer­ing wheel – that would se­cure this for us. But it’s com­pli­cated. Ev­ery­body reck­ons he’s the best in the world. Would it be an in­ter­est­ing idea if you could have some new­comer and one day chal­lenge him and even one day beat him? What would give the best re­turn?”

Maki­nen ad­mit­ted he was look­ing for that new­comer, while also con­tin­u­ing to de­velop young Ja­panese driv­ers Hirokiarai and Takamoto Kat­suta.

“One of the most im­por­tant ar­eas in the over­all pack­age are the driv­ers,” said Maki­nen. “But now we have to be also re­al­is­tic that there are not so many for us to chose from. Next year would be most prob­a­bly a com­pro­mise for us for the driv­ers, we have to look at dif­fer­ent ideas.”

With a Toy­ota deal that runs un­til the end of 2022, Maki­nen pointed out that he has time to de­velop young driv­ers. In the short-term, his fo­cus is on get­ting the team’s test car up and run­ning be­fore the end of April.

“This is where the big fo­cus is for me,” he said. “I want to wake the driv­ers’ in­ter­est in Toy­ota and the best way to do this is to show them how com­pet­i­tive we will be. We have a big com­mit­ment to this cham­pi­onship. Next year, maybe we have to be re­al­is­tic and un­der­stand our time is best used in prepa­ra­tion, in do­ing ral­lies and in get­ting ex­pe­ri­ence.” ● Arai – co driven by Brit Phil Hall – took his TMR Group N Subaru to third place and se­cond in class on his first at­tempt at last week­end’s Arc­tic Rally Fin­land.

Maki­nen will be in touch with Loeb re­gard­ing TMR seat in ’17 TMG is test­ing a ’’ 17 WRC en­gine Sol­berg (l) worked with Maki­nen in the Finn’s last­wrc sea­son

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