PHOTO: Akio Toyoda and Tommi Mäkinen try the rally-prepped Toyota 86 on Rally Australia’s Wedding Bells stage (Toyota pic)
TOYOTA, the world’s biggest motor manufacturer, delivered a huge boost to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and joy for an army of loyal Australian supporters when it announced today it will return to the competition in 2017.
Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda ended months of speculation at a media conference in Tokyo, where its Yaris WRC car made its public debut.
Toyota becomes the fifth manufacturer in the WRC – which includes Rally Australia on its 13-round annual calendar – joining Volkswagen, Hyundai, Citroen and Ford, which is represented by an independent team.
Makes committed to the WRC now comprise the most powerful manufacturer line-up in a global motorsport series. Ranked number two in sales, Volkswagen joined the WRC in 2013 and fifth-ranked Hyundai joined in 2014, alongside long-term competitors Ford (number three in the world) and Citroen.
Rally Australia Chairman Ben Rainsford and Oliver Ciesla, Managing Director of the Munich-based championship organiser WRC Promoter GmbH, both welcomed the news.
On the WRC sidelines since 1999, Toyota will run its new program from the established Toyota Motorsport base in Cologne, Germany, and has hired French drivers Stephane Sarazin and Eric Camilli plus experienced Finn Sebastian Lindholm to develop the 1.6 litre Yaris over the next two seasons.
It will aim to grow its substantial record in rally sport, which includes four drivers’ and three manufacturers’ world titles with legendary pilots such as Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen.
Kankkunen won Rally Australia in 1989 and 1993 driving a Toyota Celica, while in the Australian Rally Championship the Toyota team run by Neal Bates took six drivers’ titles between 1993 and 2008 and continues to draw a big following for his 1980 Toyota Celica world rally car in the Classic series.
Speculation about Toyota’s return was boosted when amateur racer Akio Toyoda sampled a rally-prepared Toyota 86 on a section of the Rally Finland course last August and, in secrecy, on the Wedding Bells stage of Coates Hire Rally Australia in September. His co-driver on both occasions was four-time world champion driver Tommi Mäkinen of Finland.
Members of the Coffs Harbour and District Sporting Car Club organised the Weddng Bells experience and ensured it was run safely for one of the most important motor industry figures in the world.
Rally Australia’s Ben Rainsford hailed Toyota’s return as fantastic news for the event, which will run for the 24th time on 10-13 September this year, and for the WRC.
“Toyota has been one of the most successful makes and long-term supporters in Australian rallying and has a big popular following even today for the classic 1980 Toyota Celica world rally car of Neal Bates,” Mr Rainsford said.
“Last September we were proud to facilitate a private experience on our Wedding Bells stage in a Toyota 86 for Akio Toyoda and the four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen, so perhaps in a very small way we have helped pave the way for this news.
“The decision further strengthens the status of the WRC as the pre-eminent showcase for the world’s biggest automotive brands and will bring significant extra commercial momentum to the sport here and internationally.”
WRC Promoter’s Olivier Ciesla said: “Toyota has a long and distinguished history in motorsport, particularly in world rallying, and we’re delighted to welcome one of the automobile industry’s giants back to WRC.
“Toyota’s announcement brings a fifth manufacturer into WRC, including three of the world’s five biggest-selling auto companies. The last season in which so many manufacturers were represented was 2006.
“It’s exciting to see that in addition to the manufacturers already competing in the championship, others are becoming aware of the benefits that engagement in WRC will bring to their business.
“There is a clear link between World Rally Cars and the vehicles we drive in the street and that’s a powerful marketing tool. WRC is a truly authentic sport and this positively translates to a sympathetic image for the brands involved.
“With a global annual TV audience of 800 million viewers, spread across the year from January to November, the WRC provides an excellent return on a company’s investment and we look forward to seeing Toyota back on the special stages in two years’ time.”
Yaris WRC Technical Specifications
Type: Steel body shell
Brakes: 300mm discs on gravel, 355mm on tarmac
Wheels: 7 x 15″ gravel, 8 x 18″ tarmac
Dimensions: Length 3910mm, Width 1820mm
Engine capacity: 1.6 litres
Type: In-line four-cylinder
Direct injection: Up to 200bar
Turbo pressure: 2.5 bar absolute (maximum)
Air restrictor: 33mm
Power: Around 300hp (at 6,000rpm)
Max revs: 8,500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential
Clutch: ZF Sachs
Toyota’s WRC Heritage
1973 Manufacturers’ Championship: 10th (1 win)
Toyota’s first victory, Walter Boyce/Doug Woods driving a Corolla TE20 at the Press On Regardless Rally (United States)
1974 Manufacturers’ Championship: 4th
Future world champion Björn Waldegaard makes his Toyota debut
1975 Manufacturers’ Championship: 7th (1 win)
First victory for TTE with Hannu Mikkola/Atso Aho driving a Corolla Levin in the 1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)
1976 Manufacturers’ Championship: 6th
1977 Manufacturers’ Championship: 3rd
1978 Manufacturers’ Championship: 6th
1979 Manufacturers’ Championship: 5th
1980 Manufacturers’ Championship: 7th
1981 Manufacturers’ Championship: 8th
1982 Manufacturers’ Championship: 5th (1 win)
TMG founder Ove Andersson drives in WRC for the last time, driving a Celica 2000GT
1983 Manufacturers’ Championship: 6th (1 win)
1984 Manufacturers’ Championship: 4th (1 win)
First Safari Rally (Kenya) victory with Björn Waldegaard/Hans Thorzelius driving a
Celica Twin Cam Turbo (TA64)
1985 Manufacturers’ Championship: 5th (2 wins)
1986 Manufacturers’ Championship: 6th (2 wins)
Toyota’s third successive Safari Rally win, with Björn Waldegaard/Fred Gallagher driving a Celica Twin Cam Turbo (TA64)
1987 Manufacturers’ Championship: 7th
1988 Manufacturers’ Championship: 5th
Introduction of the Celica GT Four, which would go on to win 29 WRC rallies and six world championships (two manufacturers’ and four drivers’) in its ST165, ST185 and ST205 guises
1989 Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (1 win)
Carlos Sainz makes his Toyota debut, competing in seven rallies and finishing on the podium in three
1990 Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (5 wins)
Carlos Sainz becomes Toyota’s first drivers’ world champion, at the wheel of a Celica GT-Four (ST165
1991 Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (6 wins)
Toyota’ first victory in the legendary Monte Carlo Rally
1992 Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (5 wins)
1993 Manufacturers’ Championship: 1st (7 wins)
Toyota becomes the first Japanese company to win the World Rally Championship
1994 Manufacturers’ Championship: 1st (5 wins)
Toyota achieves a second hat-trick of Safari Rally wins, with Ian Duncan driving a Celica Turbo WRC
1995 Manufacturers’ Championship: 3rd, disqualified (1 win)
1998 Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (3 wins)
After a two-season absence, Toyota wins on its return at the first attempt, in the Monte-Carlo Rally, thanks to Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya in a Corolla WRC
1999 Manufacturers’ Championship: 1st (1 win)
Toyota’s third manufacturers’ world championship; only two companies have won more in WRC history