FINLAND’S Juho Hänninen looks set to be the first driver appointed to the new Toyota factory team in next year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
Speculation about who will drive the three Toyota Yaris WRC cars has been widespread in recent months, but most leading drivers are committed already to rivals Volkswagen, Hyundai, Citroen or M-Sport Ford.
Toyota Gazoo team boss Tommi Mäkinen, speaking with Finnish broadcaster YLE, strongly hinted that Hänninen would score one of the prized seats for the WRC return of the world’s biggest motor manufacturer.
“Next season Toyota has three race drivers, one of which is very likely to be Juho Hänninen,” Mäkinen said in a report carried by WRC.com.
YLE said that Mäkinen had been influenced by Hänninen’s work at Hyundai Motorsport in developing its i20 World Rally Car ahead of and during its debut season in 2014 – when he shared duties with Australia’s Chris Atkinson – and a similar with role with Skoda Motorsport.
Hänninen won the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, the Super 2000 WRC and the European Championship in consecutive seasons from 2010 to 2012 in a Skoda Fabia S2000.
The 34-year-old has been out of a full-time drive since leaving Hyundai at the end of 2014. His last WRC outing was in Finland last year, when he finished sixth in a Ford Fiesta RS.
Hänninen has completed reconnaissance at all WRC rounds this season and shared driving duties in the Yaris WRC with Mäkinen since testing of the 2017-specification car started in Finland last month. The program is due to continue in France this month.