PHOTO: Toyota president Akio Toyoda (left) was taught rally driving by Tommi Mäkinen.

FOUR-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen will be the principal of Toyota’s squad when the Japanese manufacturer returns to the FIA Word Rally Championship in 2017.

The team will be run under the name Toyota Gazoo Racing, which operates the company’s title-winning World Endurance Championship racing programme. Toyota president Akio Toyoda will be team chairman.

Toyota announced the news from Japan on Tuesday morning, but did not mention its own Toyota Motorsport division, which on 30 January announced a return to WRC on ‘with a car developed and built entirely at its Cologne technical centre’.

Since then test drivers including Sebastian Lindholm and Stéphane Sarrazin have been developing a Yaris World Rally Car and Toyota has signed development drivers Eric Camilli and Teemu Suninen with an eye to the future.

Mäkinen won 24 world rallies between 1985 and 2003 and four straight drivers’ titles for Mitsubishi from 1996 to 1999.

Mäkinen and Toyoda demonstrated a Toyota GT86 in Finland last year and drove a car on the Coffs Coast’s Wedding Bells stage several weeks after the 2014 Coates Hire Rally Australia.

Mäkinen has run Tommi Mäkinen Racing in Finland since retiring from driving and last year built a private GT86 car for Toyoda, which the pair demonstrated at Neste Oil Rally Finland.

Toyoda said he was ‘happy and excited’ to have Mäkinen leading the team.

“I first met Tommi in 2013. At that time he was my instructor, helping me improve my driving technique.

“In the end, he taught me a lot more. He showed me the appeal of rallying and the relationship between vehicle development and rallying.

“Tommi has abundant experience and fresh ideas for vehicle development, both of which will be valuable assets to us.

“After talking to Tommi, I felt I want to work with him, I want him to help us make better cars, and that’s how I came to ask for his support with this project.

“With Tommi behind us, Toyota will forge ahead with our return to WRC and also our efforts to make ever-better cars.”

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.