SÉBASTIEN Ogier will bid for a seventh FIA World Rally Championship when he leads an all-new driver line-up at Toyota Gazoo Racing next season.
Ogier’s expected signing and those of new teammates Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä, were confirmed overnight.
The three-time Rally Australia winner, 35, joins the Japanese manufacturer from Citroën Racing in a one-year deal ,which is expected to be his final campaign before retiring from the WRC. Evans and Rovanperä have inked two-year contracts.
Evans, 30, joins from M-Sport Ford for which he has driven his entire WRC career. He links up again with Ogier after two seasons together at the British squad in 2017 and 2018.
Nineteen-year-old Rovanperä is one of the sport’s most exciting young prospects. He steps up to the headline World Rally Car category from Skoda Motorsport, for which he won the WRC 2 Pro title this season.
The trio replaces newly-crowned world champion Ott Tänak, who has switched to Hyundai Motorsport, and the out-of-contract Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke.
Team principal Tommi Mäkinen said the experience of six-time world champion Ogier and Evans, allied to Rovanperä’s potential, provided a great balance as Toyota targets more titles with its Yaris World Rally Car.
“We know how strong Sébastien is and we’re all looking forward to working with him and Julien (co-driver Ingrassia). I think that being able to attract a driver with his record says a lot about what we have achieved in such a short space of time with this team,” Mäkinen said.
“Elfyn is a driver I have been watching for some time. We’ve seen he can have the speed to win on almost any surface, but he can also be very clever when needed and score good points.
“I’ve known Kalle since he was very young and it’s always been clear that he has something special. He still has lots to learn, but I believe he is ready for this step now.”
Ogier said his move completed talks that first started three years ago when Toyota confirmed its WRC return after a 17-year absence.
“We already discussed it at the end of 2016 and although we didn’t manage to make it happen at that time, I’m now overwhelmed to start working with such an iconic brand as Toyota as well as my childhood idol Tommi Mäkinen,” said the Frenchman.
“All three of us are new to the team, so it’s going to be challenging to learn the car and everything, but of course we’ll do our best to perform as quickly as possible.”
Welshman Evans, whose sole WRC victory from 86 starts came in Britain in 2017, said he hoped four-time drivers’ world champion Mäkinen’s expertise would help deliver more wins.
“Tommi has been very successful as a driver himself and knows what it takes to perform at this level. It’s been great to deal with him so far, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the team better as we ramp up towards the start of next season,” he said.
Rovanperä, who first tested a Yaris when he was 16, said he appreciated the trust shown in him by fellow Finn Mäkinen.
“I’m sure next year is going be quite demanding. The biggest challenges will be to learn the new car and also the rallies that are new on the calendar. For sure, the beginning will be all about learning the car and the speed and everything that comes with it,” he said.
“I think Seb and Elfyn will be really good team-mates for me with their experience. I have so much I can learn from them, so it’s nice to have them in the team also.”