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
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.