TOYOTA PRE­DICTS EARLY STRUG­GLES

Vic­to­ries will take time for the Fin­nish-based squad, says boss Maki­nen

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

Toyota team prin­ci­pal Tommi Maki­nen has ruled the Yaris WRC out of po­ten­tial vic­to­ries in its maiden season in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship.

The Yaris, which was tested for the first time just seven months ago, will break com­pet­i­tive cover at this month’s Monte Carlo Rally with Jari-matti Latvala and Juho Han­ni­nen driv­ing the team’s first two cars. Toyota test driver Es­apekka Lappi is look­ing at a seven-round pro­gramme start­ing in the spring.

Maki­nen said: “The tar­get for the [2017] season is to reach the good po­si­tion dur­ing ev­ery sin­gle rally and to con­tinue to build to­wards the 2018 season when we will have a full, three-car team to com­pete for the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ cham­pi­onship.”

Maki­nen said the Toyota’s de­but would likely be com­pro­mised if the weather stayed dry in the French Alps. The team only be­gan a sig­nif­i­cant as­phalt test pro­gramme in Oc­to­ber.

“We have con­cen­trated our test more on gravel ral­lies,” the four-time world cham­pion added, “be­cause most of the cham­pi­onship is on this sur­face. We have some in­for­ma­tion on what we need to do next and we will ho­molo­gate parts to make us even faster [on as­phalt], but there will be some com­pro­mises in Monte Carlo be­cause of the [short­age of] time.”

Late ad­di­tion to the team Latvala will lead Toyota’s first re­turn to the WRC since it departed the sport on an ul­ti­mately fruitless search for suc­cess in For­mula 1 in 1999.

The Finn ad­mit­ted he had feared his dream of be­ing World Rally cham­pion was over when he looked likely to miss out on the Toyota drive he landed late last year. Latvala and his former Volk­swa­gen team-mate An­dreas Mikkelsen were set head-to-head for the seat in a Yaris WRC. Fol­low­ing a stel­lar drive to win Rally Aus­tralia and seal third place in the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship, the Nor­we­gian looked to have the edge for the seat un­til Latvala was con­firmed late in the day.

Like his new boss Maki­nen, Latvala has fo­cused his at­ten­tions on 2018, feel­ing the Yaris WRC needs more work this season be­fore he’s able to chal­lenge for Fin­land’s first crown since Mar­cus Gron­holm in 2002.

Latvala, who has fin­ished sec­ond in the race for the driv­ers’ ti­tle three times, said: “My dream is still to win the driv­ers’ ti­tle. A month ago, that dream col­lapsed [when Volk­swa­gen an­nounced its de­par­ture from the WRC]. After that, it was a very stress­ful period when I didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen. When ev­ery­thing came to­gether, I knew I had the chance to fight again – but not nec­es­sar­ily in 2017. The team is com­mit­ted to the WRC for the next five years and, if I work for it, the op­por­tu­nity is there for me.”

Latvala’s coun­try­man and team­mate Han­ni­nen was de­lighted when the former VW driver joined Toyota.

“Jari-matti is one of the eas­i­est guys to work with in the WRC,” said Han­ni­nen, “he’s so open and will­ing to share the in­for­ma­tion. After his first two days, we have been shar­ing ev­ery­thing. I can­not imag­ine any­body eas­ier to work with.”

Han­ni­nen has set his own tar­get of re­main­ing as a full-time WRC driver with Toyota in 2018.

He added: “This year I have a great op­por­tu­nity, I’m not fin­ish­ing one event and wait­ing for the phone call to tell me when and if I will be driv­ing next time.

“I want to be part of this team in 2018 and that’s only up to me to do. I want to make a good re­sult for my­self and also for the team next season.”

“The team is com­mit­ted to WRC” LATVALA “The tar­get is to reach a good po­si­tion on ev­ery rally” MAKI­NEN

It’s 2017. The one we’ve all been wait­ing for.

This new cat­e­gory of World Rally Cars has been more than four years in the mak­ing. Look­ing back through my notes, it was early 2013 that I had my first con­ver­sa­tion with FIA rally di­rec­tor Jarmo Ma­ho­nen about what might be pos­si­ble. What the next gen­er­a­tion might be all about.

It was a while after that the FIA re­vealed that aw­ful pic­ture de­pict­ing what a 2017 World Rally Car might look like. For­tu­nately, none of them do. But it made the point: width and ag­gres­sion are ev­ery­thing this year.

I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to see all the cars test­ing and you should rest as­sured, they’re ev­ery bit as quick as we’d hoped they might be. Black lines on dry as­phalt will be drawn on de­mand in Cor­sica come April.

As for who’s go­ing to win, you can ex­pect a full anal­y­sis of the teams and the crews’ chances in the next cou­ple of is­sues of Motorsport News as the season winds it­self up to a Monte Carlo start. But one thing is sure, we have never gone into round one with ev­ery­thing so wide open.

For that, we thank that dodgy diesel en­gi­neer who med­dled with Volk­swa­gen’s ECUS.

And, of course, we start the season with two Bri­tish driv­ers and one Ir­ish­man right at the front of the field. It’s been a long time since we had so much home­grown in­ter­est and po­ten­tial on a global scale.

And any­body who re­mains un­con­vinced of the op­por­tu­nity pre­sent­ing it­self to Kris Meeke and Paul Na­gle this season should think again. It’s mas­sive and it’s right there in front of them; al­most, but not quite there for the tak­ing.

At the pair’s pre-monte test, a French col­league prof­fered the opin­ion that given Se­bastien Ogier’s late ar­rival in Cum­bria, Meeke ac­tu­ally starts the season as favourite.

KM was as suc­cinct as ever in his sin­gle-world re­sponse to that the­ory. “Bullsh*t.” We’ll see. It’s not just the world cham­pi­onship that’s in for a fas­ci­nat­ing season ei­ther – the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship pulled off a phoenix-like re­cov­ery last year. This time around, it’s that tricky sec­ond al­bum for the re­born, com­ing back Brit-pop­pers.

The series starts with­out its cham­pion (and for that we have to be thank­ful – Evans fully de­serves a full-time job go­ing around the world in a rally car) and that will un­doubt­edly present a golden op­por­tu­nity for other crews.

As my col­league Jack Benyon pointed out last season, the events are the area of most con­cern for the series or­gan­is­ers. And, un­for­tu­nately for them, they’re the area they’re likely to have the least in­flu­ence.

The ar­rival of Ypres will raise the BRC bar this season and those fall­ing short must be cut loose if the series is to build a rep­u­ta­tion and re­turn it­self to its right­ful spot as Europe’s pre­mier rally cham­pi­onship.

We have a fas­ci­nat­ing season ahead, start­ing with Au­tosport In­ter­na­tional in Birm­ing­ham next week. If you’re there, come and say hello.

Pho­tos: Toyota Ga­zoo Rac­ing

Latvala will spear­head Yaris as­sault on WRC

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