TOYOTA’S WRC DREAM GATHERS PACE
Makinen-run outfit has “different” car concept to WRC rivals
Toyota will surprise the opposition with a different concept for its all-new Yaris WRC when it returns to the World Rally Championship next season.
That’s the prediction of the Finland-based team’s chief of engineering Tom Fowler.
Speaking at length to the media for the first time last week, Fowler and team principal Tommi Makinen outlined Toyota’s current position in the car’s development as well as its plans for drivers in the coming season.
New year, new car
As has been the case with all of the teams, Toyota is using the current Yaris as a mule car, with a new Yaris base road car confirmed in time for the start of next season.
Fowler said: “It won’t be a problem for the new car, underneath it’s not so different. We’re able to produce the current test cars using data for the 2017 road car, so on the outside the test car looks like a 2015 car, but on the inside it’s a 2017 car.”
Talking of the scope for making a difference with the new regulations, which allow cars more aerodynamics and power, Fowler said Toyota had something up its sleeve.
“The overall concept is quite different [from the other teams],” he said. “It’s too early for me to explain where these differences are physically with the car, that would give away something we feel will be an advantage to us.”
He did, however, hint at an aerodynamic change, saying: “In the previous generation cars there was not much targeting on aerodynamics. Going to the other extreme, if you look at Formula 1 cars, they will compromise every single suspension component for a small amount of aero. Now that’s not something that rallying has ever seen before and it’s not to say we will fully compromise everything for aero, but the balance has changed. We have been able to design the chassis, suspension, the engine and transmission installation and that gave scope to the people working on the overall body design and [allowed] aerodynamics to have their input as well.”
Two before three
Toyota is likely to start next season running just two Yaris WRCS, with a third car coming online later in the year.
“The infrastructure is there to run a three-car team,” said Makinen, “but we know it’s pretty big work to build and run three cars from the start. I say it’s easier to start with two and bring the third car after a couple of rallies.”
Makinen added that Toyota’s return to the championship had been well-timed with the biggest overhaul of technical regulations since the series moved to World Rally Cars in 1997.
“This was a far easier time for us to join the game than if we were in the same position three years earlier,” Makkinen added. “Now everybody has to do big work because the cars are so dramatically different – it’s big changes.”
Makinen added that the Yaris has already made big steps in its early development.
“The car has improved in many areas,” he said. “One important area which gives performance for us is suspension. Another area is the engine, this has a different design now – one with more room for servicing. The original engine was a bit bigger and a bit complicated for ground-clearance, now it is more compact.”
Toyota is expected to make decisions on drivers soon after Rally Germany later this month, following consultation with Japan.
Asked who was in the frame, Makinen said: “I can tell you the
names, but you know all of the names, there is Elfyn [Evans], there’s Ott Tanak, Esapekka Lappi, Teemu Suninen and the young comer is Pontus Tidemand. The plan is not decided yet, we will discuss with Japan.
“The question for the drivers is how we see the world: are we looking to 2017 or are we looking to the future? This is the area we will discuss very carefully with Japan and make a decision together.”
Makinen has made it clear the priority is no longer to win from the outset. Winning in 2018 is the target.
“The 2017 season is the year first to learn and analyse the rallies,” he said. “I would like to say we would be ready to fight and to win in 2018. The target for next year? Of course we’d like to see the podium very soon.”
To that end, test driver Juho Hanninen looks increasingly likely to be kept on.
Makinen added: “For learning and analysing every single rally, Juho would be good. He knows the car technically, he has done the whole test programme. That could help us be more ready for 2018.” Makinen confirmed Mikko Hirvonen will join the test team this week – but he ruled the former WRC runner-up out of a full-time 2017 drive, saying: “Mikko wants to continue with his current programme [in Dakar with Mini].”
Toyota’s new 2017 Yaris WRC is making progress
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