Toyota has confirmed it will be mounting a return to the World Rally Championship in 2017 after an 18 year hiatus. The comeback charge will be spearheaded by a WRC homologated version of the company’s Yaris hatchback.
The Japanese constructor last graced the world’s most demanding rally series in 1999. That season brought the curtain down on an uninterrupted 25 year run in WRC for Toyota Team Europe, during which time the Asian manufacturer had established itself as a major player on the roads and a firm favourite with the fans.
Iconic cars such as the Celica Twin-cam Turbo and GT-Four delivered four drivers’ and three manufacturers’ world championships in the 1990s, piloted by legendary names such as Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.
The car set to inherit that illustrious throne will be a rally-adapted version of Toyota’s road-going Yaris hatchback. In line with new championship regulations anticipated for the 2017 season, the car features a 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct injection engine producing more than 300bhp as well as a reinforced chassis capable of handling the rigours of rallying in the world’s toughest environments. The Yaris WRC, still in the early stages of development, has already completed a preliminary test programme on tarmac and gravel stages across Europe. Now that an official WRC programme has been confirmed, development will be expanded to include several European WRC venues, on a variety of surfaces.
One thing that will remain a mystery for the foreseeable future is the identity of the driver line-up. Toyota say that several young drivers have already been given the chance to showcase their skills at wheel, including 27 year-old Frenchman Eric Camilli, who has been selected as the first member of the team’s fledgling junior driver development scheme. The experienced Stéphane Sarrazin, part of the Toyota WEC squad and one-time Subaru WRC driver, will also be on hand to put the Yaris through its paces.
The comeback, announced by the brand’s motorsport chief Yoshiaki Kinshita, follows that of another far-eastern motoring giant, Hyundai, who returned to the WRC fold last season after more than a decade out. Toyota’s return is of particular significance, however, as only Lancia, Citroën and Peugeot have more constructors’ crowns to their names in WRC history.
Toyota will conduct its WRC operations alongside its already well-established World Endurance Championship programme, representing a significant broadening of the marque’s motorsport ambitions.
As for the series, the addition of another manufacturer to the WRC family can only be a positive thing for the sport as a whole. Toyota’s re-entry will doubtless promote more investment, hand more young drivers a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all and, hopefully, boost WRC’s prestige as one of the world’s premier motorsport competitions.
Take a look at the video bellow to see how the Yaris WRC is shaping up in testing.