Few companies can boast as deep a rally heritage as Toyota, save perhaps Ford, Subaru and Mitsubishi. Toyota’s rally history dates back as far as 1973 and includes three World Championships. When they left the sport in 1999, they left a gaping void.
Even though the WRC has little impact on the North American rally scene, you could almost feel the excitement vibrating through the interwebs when Toyota announced their return to rally during a press conference to outline their 2015 motorsport activities.
The Yaris WRC has been purpose built and is powered by a 1.6L, direct injected four banger that generates somewhere in the neighbourhood of 300 horsepower. The car has been developed by Toyota Motorsport at its Cologne technical centre, with direct involvement of top brass including Akio Toyoda.
With a guy like Toyoda at the helm, it is hard to believe that Toyota is the company most famous for family cars of the most beige variety. If you have any doubt that he is a REAL car guy, just watch this video of him shaking down the Yaris WRC.
TMG press release
TOYOTA Motorsport GmbH (TMG) will return to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2017 with a car developed and built entirely at its Cologne technical centre.
Over the next two years TMG will continue its test programme with the Yaris WRC car to prepare for a full return to the series in which it won four drivers’ and three manufacturers’ World Championships in the 1990s.
Today’s news was announced by TOYOTA Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda at a news conference in Tokyo, where the Yaris WRC made its public debut, complete with new launch livery.
The Yaris WRC has already completed a preliminary test programme on tarmac and gravel stages throughout Europe, establishing a promising baseline on which to build over the coming months.
The car features a 1.6-litre turbo-charged, direct injection engine, which produces over 300hp, while advanced simulation, testing and production techniques have shaped the Yaris chassis.
With an official WRC programme now confirmed, development will be expanded while the dedicated team of specialists to engineer and operate the car will be increased.
Several young drivers have already tested the car and Frenchman Eric Camilli, 27, has been selected as the first member of a junior driver development scheme designed with the goal of developing TOYOTA rally stars of the future.
Eric will carry out the development programme alongside last year’s Tour de Corse winner Stéphane Sarrazin, also a racer in TOYOTA’s FIA World Endurance Championship team, and Sebastian Lindholm.
That test programme will include several WRC venues around Europe on a variety of surfaces. Experience gained will assist TOYOTA as it prepares a car for the 2017 season, when updated technical regulations are expected to be introduced.
The Yaris WRC follows an illustrious line of TOYOTA cars to carry the brand into WRC and when it makes its competitive debut in 2017, it will mark almost two decades since the company’s final World Championship rally, in 1999.
That 1999 season marked the end of over 25 years continuous rally activity at TMG, which began life as Andersson Motorsport GmbH, named after company founder Ove Andersson, and competed in WRC as TOYOTA Team Europe.
During that time, 43 wins were achieved with iconic cars like the Celica Twincam Turbo and GT-Four variants and the Corolla WRC featuring legendary drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.
TMG already stepped back into the rally world last year with the introduction of its GT86 CS-R3 customer rally car, designed to FIA R3 regulations.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, TMG President: “It is a great honour to be asked to bring the TOYOTA name back to the World Rally Championship alongside our continued participation in the World Endurance Championship. To run two works motorsport programmes simultaneously is of course a challenge but we believe we have the expertise and determination to succeed. There is much to do as we make the journey back to WRC but to have received the support of TOYOTA Motor Corporation and our President Akio Toyoda is already very encouraging. We are looking forward to taking the next steps with an extensive development plan and a junior driver development programme. It is an exciting time and we are looking forward to this new challenge with great anticipation.”
If you’ve got some time to spare, watch the entire Toyota Motorsports press conference.