LAUNCH 2017 WEAPON First WRC Toy­ota for 2017 is launched with Lat­vala on­board

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans TECH SPEC Photos: Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing

Toy­ota’s first World Rally Car in 17 years was re­vealed in Fin­land ear­lier this week – and as ex­pected Jari-matti Lat­vala will lead the Ja­panese gi­ant’s re­turn.

Lat­vala signed to drive for Toy­ota last week and be­gan test­ing the Yaris WRC im­me­di­ately. Lat­vala will be joined in the Pu­up­pola-based squad by Juho Han­ni­nen, the man re­spon­si­ble for much of the car’s test and devel­op­ment run­ning.

Reign­ing WRC2 cham­pion Es­apekka Lappi was con­firmed as Toy­ota’s test driver, en­sur­ing an all-fin­nish driver line up for 2017.

Lat­vala talked of his his­tor­i­cal links with the Ja­panese car­maker, say­ing: “I started my rally ca­reer in a Toy­ota Corolla GT back in 2001 and my first com­pet­i­tive out­ing in a World Rally Car was be­hind the wheel of a Corolla WRC in 2003 in Es­to­nia. So in many ways, it feels like I’m com­ing home! I’m re­ally happy to join the Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing WRC team from the very start and lead this new ad­ven­ture with them. I feel lucky to be part of this story and I hope we will amass a lot of vic­to­ries in it.”

The 31-year-old, who has won 16 rounds of the world cham­pi­onship, was fac­ing a bleak fu­ture with­out last week’s deal. The Volk­swa­gen refugee ad­mit­ted to MN he’d feared he could end up with­out a seat next sea­son.

He said: “If you had asked me one week ago, I would have said it was look­ing un­likely that I would be on the start line in Monte Carlo. I am very happy to be here.”

Lat­vala and Han­ni­nen will start ev­ery round in a Yaris WRC next sea­son, with Lappi run­ning along­side them on a se­lected pro­gramme of events from the spring on­wards.

Toy­ota CEO and pres­i­dent Akio Toy­oda spoke of his pride at Toy­ota’s re­turn to the cham­pi­onship for the first time since 1999 and his de­ter­mi­na­tion to make it a win­ning re­turn.

Toy­oda said: “When I at­tended the WRC in Fin­land in July 2014 as a spec­ta­tor, many fans asked when Toy­ota would be re­turn­ing to the rally. Six months later, we de­cided to re­turn to WRC, and it is my great plea­sure to present the car to com­pete in WRC, with our team mem­bers who have pre­pared for it and the part­ners who have sup­ported us in that effort.”

Toy­oda ex­pe­ri­enced the Yaris WRC in its lat­est form ear­lier this month with team prin­ci­pal Tommi Maki­nen driv­ing. His ride along­side the four-time world cham­pion has in­stilled more con­fi­dence ahead of the 2017 sea­son.

“The other day I had the plea­sure of sit­ting in the driver’s seat of our Yaris WRC and driv­ing the car a few miles with Tommi,” added Toy­oda. “Per­ceiv­ing the car’s sound and smell, the feel of the steering wheel and ped­als, and, more than any­thing else, the look on Tommi’s face, I was able to share with him a feel­ing of con­fi­dence in our abil­ity to com­pete with this car.”

As Toy­ota en­ters its fi­nal month of prepa­ra­tion for next sea­son, Toy­oda said the de­ter­mi­na­tion re­mained the same as ever. He added: “We will be do­ing our very best through­out this fi­nal month, right up un­til the WRC be­gins, so that we can –as quickly as pos­si­ble – as­sure long-time fans that Toy­ota is back as the king of this kind of event.

“As I said af­ter this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans en­durance race, Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing hates to lose. Rest as­sured that the same at­ti­tude ap­plies to WRC.”

Maki­nen ad­mit­ted there was still more to come from the Yaris WRC, with the early devel­op­ment fo­cus be­ing on build­ing in some re­li­a­bil­ity.

“The Yaris WRC is a well-de­signed car with in­cred­i­ble po­ten­tial,” he said. “The new reg­u­la­tions al­low for much greater freedom in terms of devel­op­ment. Al­though we have yet to ex­plore all the pos­si­bil­i­ties, we can say that the car is re­li­able and quick. I re­ally can’t wait to see the re­sults in rac­ing con­di­tions.”

The World Rally Cham­pi­onship has a prob­lem. In the next 18 months to two years, most of the driv­ers in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship will have an even big­ger prob­lem. He’s called Kalle. Kalle Ro­van­pera. The WRC’S prob­lem right now is that it doesn’t have any­where to put him. He only turned 16 a cou­ple of months ago. But he’s al­ready won the Lat­vian Rally Cham­pi­onship, tested Toy­ota’s Yaris WRC and fin­ished sec­ond at the Bet­tega Me­mo­rial – his maiden com­pe­ti­tion in a World Rally Car. Ral­ly­ing has found its Max Ver­stap­pen. Ro­van­pera’s been on the radar for some time now, not least af­ter a punc­ture cost him the chance of beat­ing Pon­tus Tide­mand on Lithua­nia’s Rally Ze­maitija in the sum­mer.

His speed on gravel is be­yond ques­tion. But what about as­phalt? It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, he’s got time on his side… But it looks like he’s got Tar­mac fairly well fig­ured out as well, fourth in class on his Monza Rally de­but last month and then Bologna.

Granted, last week­end is very much a com­pro­mised set-up with a part-gravel, part as­phalt stage, but it was the patience and precision that im­pressed as much as the speed and the brav­ery.

With very lit­tle run­ning time in a pri­vate Ford Fi­esta RS WRC, Ro­van­pera jumped in the car and was im­me­di­ately on the pace. He fin­ished third in Satur­day’s Tro­feo Pucci Night Sprint, los­ing out to El­fyn Evans in the semi-fi­nal. A day on and he faced this year’s Rally Italy win­ner Thierry Neuville in the semi-fi­nal of the main event. Neuville blinked, rolled his Hyundai and Kalle cruised into the fi­nal.

Run over four races, Evans’ DMACK Fi­esta won the first by half a sec­ond. The next one was closer, the Finn miss­ing out by 0.08s af­ter fluff­ing the hair­pin.

Race three? A Ro­van­pera win by 0.3s. The fi­nal race was a stun­ner, end­ing in vic­tory for Evans by 0.05s.

Evans must have been breath­ing a huge sigh of re­lief as he spun his Fi­esta af­ter the fin­ish line. Not to be outdone, Ro­van­pera sent his Ford into a set of cel­e­bra­tory donuts.

“I re­mem­ber talk­ing to Pon­tus about him,” Evans said af­ter the event, “Pon­tus had said just how quick he was – he al­most beat him on a rally…”

Given his dad’s close links with Fin­nish man­ager Timo Jouhki, it’s highly likely Ju­nior’s fu­ture is al­ready un­der lock and key.

Un­for­tu­nately for him, his home stages in Fin­land will re­main off lim­its for an­other year. Rally GB next year would be a go-er though… Fel­low Finn Jar­iMatti Lat­vala re­mains the WRC’S youngest ever win­ner at 22 years and 313 days (Swedish Rally, 2008). Cham­pi­onship-wise, no­body’s beaten Colin Mcrae’s record of tak­ing the ti­tle at 27 years, 109 days.

Both of those records look likely to be rewrit­ten in the com­ing years.

DE­CEM­BER 14/21 2016 Yaris has tested plenty ahead of WRC de­but Toy­oda (l) and Maki­nen (r) Lat­vala feared for WRC fu­ture be­fore Toy­ota deal

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