Toyota Gazoo Racing has announced that four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Mäkinen will direct its 2017 World Rally Championship campaign as team principal. Returning to the sport for the first time since 1999, the Japanese squad will field two Yaris WRCs to fight it out with the big names of rallying - Volkswagen, Citroën and Hyundai.
Mäkinen brings with him extensive rally experience, largely made up of an 18-year career that earned him 28 World Rally wins before his retirement in 2003. Working alongside him will be Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, who will take the role of the team’s chairman.
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The pairing have worked together before, with Mäkinen teaching Toyoda the ins and outs of rally driving in a four-wheel drive GT86. ‘In the end, he taught me a lot more; he showed me the appeal of rallying and the relationship between vehicle development and rallying,’ explains Toyoda. ‘Tommi has abundant experience and fresh ideas for vehicle development, both of which will be valuable assets to us.’
Not only does Toyoda expect Mäkinen to help the team in its WRC campaign, he also expects lessons learned to be transferred across to Toyota’s road cars. ‘With Tommi behind us, Toyota will forge ahead with our return to WRC and also our efforts to make even-better road cars.’
Though it’s still under development, Toyota has already revealed the basic specs of its 2017 challenger. Like its main rivals, the Yaris WRC is powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, which is quoted as producing around 300bhp at 6500rpm and a peak of 310lb ft of torque.
The turbo can provide up to 2.5bar of pressure, but the fitment of a 33mm restrictor comes thanks to WRC regulations. Drive is sent to all four wheels through a six-speed sequential gearbox with a ZF Sachs clutch.
To stop the car, 300mm brake discs are used on gravel, with meatier 355mm items used on tarmac stages. These will sit behind either 15-inch gravel spec wheels or 18-inch tarmac spec wheels. Of course, despite its technical similarities, we’ll have to wait until the first rally of 2017 to see if the Yaris WRC can contend with the likes of the Citroën DS3 WRC and ever-dominant VW Polo R WRC.
Toyota is yet to announce which drivers will pilot its two Yaris WRCs, but favourites for the jobs include Eric Camilli, Sebastian Lindholm, Stephane Sarrazin and Teemu Suninen – all of whom are currently involved in the development process.