TOYOTA has raised the stakes in the FIA World Rally Championship by announcing it will run a fourth Yaris WRC at round eight in Italy next month.
Juho Hänninen, a full-timer with the Japanese factory team until the end of 2017 and now its principal test driver, will join current regulars Ott Tänak, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke at Rally Italia Sardegna on 13-16 June.
The news comes a day after Hyundai said it had entered nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb for next week’s Rally Portugal, replacing the off-form Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian will return to his seat in the Hyundai i20 Coupe in Sardinia.
Hyundai and Toyota are 1-2 in the WRC Manufacturers’ Championship and both fighting for their first title.
Hänninen’s deal is only for Sardinia, but clearly signals Toyota’s determination to increase the challenge to Hyundai.
The 37-year-old Finn will be entered by Tommi Mäkinen Racing at the Mediterranean island gravel road fixture, which will close the first part of the FIA World Rally Championship season before a seven-week break.
Hänninen conducted the lion’s share of the test and development work on the Yaris ahead of Toyota’s WRC return in 2017 after a 17-year absence.
He partnered Latvala and Esapekka Lappi that season, with a best result of third at Neste Rally Finland.