Finnish rally star Jari-Matti Latvala has been officially unveiled as Toyota Gazoo Racing’s lead driver ahead of the Japanese brand’s return to WRC next year.
The former Ford pilot was left high and dry when ex-employers Volkswagen dramatically pulled the plug on their WRC program at the tail-end of last season. However, the two-time championship runner-up has not been short of suiters over the close season as has this week confirmed he’ll be linking up with compatriot Juho Hänninen in the newly-formed Toyota squad.
There’s a distinctly Finnish flavour to the new Toyota outfit, which makes its return to the series after a 17-year hiatus. Multiple world champion and rallying royalty Tommi Mäkinen takes the reigns as team principle while Toyota Motorsport bosses have also confirmed the signing of newly-crowned WRC 2 champion Esapekka Lappi as test driver for 2017. The talented 25-year old is expected to take to the wheel of a third Toyota Yaris WRC car on selected events next season, pending the official publication of Toyota’s full 2017 programme.
Latvala, who began his WRC career behind the wheel of a Corolla WRC back in 2003, has 16 WRC rally victories to his name and holds the record as the youngest WRC rally winner in history when he swept to victory at Rally Sweden in 2008. Fellow Finn Hänninen is well acquainted with the all-new Yaris WRC car having played a key role in its testing and development over the last two years. The 35-year old is a veteran of 43 rallies over a ten-year period and enjoyed a brief stint with the Hyundai team during the 2014 campaign when he registered three top ten finishes.
The Finnish trio will ride into battle aboard the all-new Toyota Yaris WRC next season. The competition version of Toyota’s upcoming road-going hot-hatch draws 375bhp and 314lb ft of torque from a 1.6-litre engine, in line with the more relaxed WRC technical regulations ahead of the new campaign.
The all-new Toyota squad will make its debut at the 2017 WRC season curtain-raiser at Rallye Monte Carlo on January 19th.