TOYOTA READY TO FLY IN WRC
Rivals fear japanese car’s pace in 2019 contest
Meeke: New Yaris man
The manufacturer titlewinning team will field a largely unchanged car for this month’s seasonopener in Monte Carlo, but from then on the Yaris will evolve quickly.
Toyota dominated the second half of last season, winning four of the last six rounds. World Rally Championship teams fear Toyota could dominate this year’s series – with the Japanese manufacturer already working on a series of upgrades for its Yaris WRC.
Toyota starts this year chasing back-to-back manufacturer World Rally Championship titles for the first time in 25 years – and its rivals fear the Japanese giant’s domination of this year’s series.
Drivers and team principals from all corners of the service park point to Toyota as the team to beat this season, with world champion Sebastien Ogier summing up everybody’s feelings.
“They are so strong,” said Ogier. “When you see what they could do last year, especially in the second half of the year – we all have a lot of work to do to stay with them.”
Asked if Toyota were favourites going into 2019, Ogier was unequivocal, saying: “For the teams’ [title], I would say for sure.”
Team principal Tommi Makinen did little to allay those fears, telling MN there was more to come from his team in the coming year. Asked what he thought about the label of pre-season favourite, Makinen said: “I’m not so sure about that, yet. Look at last year and, yes, we had so many fastest stage times – but we did not have as many good results as we should have. We need more good results from the rallies.
“We have some work coming with the car, we have some [homologation] jokers which we will be using, but maybe we don’t need to do too much with the car [in terms of performance]. I would say the consistency is the important thing for us to find.”
There can be absolutely no denying the excitement that accompanies a driver line-up including the trio of world rally winners that is Ott Tanak, Jari-matti Latvala and Kris Meeke. Each of those three drivers starts the season with the ability, pace and knowledge to win every round of the championship. Between them, they have 378 WRC starts and 29 wins. The bulk of those statistics comes from Latvala, but Tanak and Meeke have both been around long enough to know what’s needed. Interestingly, the Estonian has one more world rally start (92) and one more win (six) than Meeke.
The only possible fly in the ointment comes in the management of three strong-willed crews, each of whom will only have eyes for one step of the podium.
This is where the homologation jokers are really going to come in to play as the team looks to source more traction and more driveability from revised front, centre and rear differentials.
Toyota’s chief engineer Tom Fowler explained: “Changing the specification of the transmission is a difficult and long-winded process. Once you’ve homologated the original diffs, you have to go through a joker process to change each one. And, if you get that wrong, you have to go through a further joker to rectify it or go back to the old set-up. We’ve been working on the ramps in the diffs since 2017, but now we’re more on the internals in the front and centre. This is aimed at improving the driveability of the car and helping with the way we put the torque down onto the road. This is aimed more at the gravel events, but it’s possible we will be able to learn more from this for asphalt.”
Engine’s on song
When the Yaris WRC first turned a wheel in competition almost two years ago, rivals immediately noticed the strength of the engine – especially the power output. Engine development is completed by Toyota Motorsport in Cologne and the fruits of Germany’s ongoing labours were seen in Finland last season, when TMG delivered an upgrade in time for Tanak to win in Jyvaskyla.
The combination of engine and transmission is where Toyota will score well this year – with improvements to both offering more feedback and confidence to the drivers. The engine now gives more torque than ever, allowing the drivers to use the motor to pull themselves out of trouble, especially in tricky conditions where grip is compromised.
Time to toughen up
Plenty was made of Toyota’s fragile front end last season, with radiator and engine damage ruling the team out of plenty of points. It’s these issues Makinen is talking about when he speaks of the need for more consistency.
Despite those issues, when it came to the really tough test – Turkey – then Tanak delivered another win for the Yaris. Fowler admits, however, that rough rally pace needs significant attention for this season.
“If you ask me,” said Fowler, “which rally I was most disappointed with last year in terms of performance, I’d have to say Turkey. OK, we won the rally, but we weren’t there in terms of pace. Everybody broke their suspension except us – maybe you could say we were quite fortunate that we didn’t hit any of the bigger rocks. But look at the first day and we were sixth, without the other cars having problems and some mistakes we might have stayed there. We’ve seen this as a trend last year, in the rougher sections of stages, when we’re down to bedrock, then they’re tough for us. In Turkey we traded protection for performance and we knew when we started that rally out outright speed wasn’t there.
“We’ve worked hard to pick up traction in the slower, looser sections and that was one of the car’s big gains last year – but that’s come to the detriment of protection in the suspension, which meant we couldn’t carry the speed through the rough places. We need to work on this, we need some time testing on rough gravel – trouble is, there aren’t many rallies where you need that. It means devoting time to a set-up and car fairly specific to one rally. Generally, rallies are getting easier on the cars which has meant more of a focus on performance.” The overview Chassis and suspension development is ongoing with Toyota and the drivers are known to be far happier with the feel and feedback from the Yaris than they were 12 months ago.
The only visible change to the outside of the car for 2019 is expected to come around the front of the rear wheel arch, which will have a minor aero tweak to help the natural airflow for cooling. There’s a feeling the car could still shed some weight, but otherwise it’s getting close to the optimum current specification World Rally Car.
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s other strength is undoubtedly the support from the parent manufacturer in Japan. Toyota chairman and CEO Akio Toyoda is a personal supporter of Makinen’s work and is regularly seen on events cheering on the Yaris WRCS. That support is reflected in the budget, with Toyota the bestresourced squad in the service park.
Auriol was a Toyota winner in 1994