A Yaris we want to drive! Toyota returns to the WRC after a 17-year absence
Led by rally royalty Tommi Mäkinen, Toyota returns to top-flight rallying in 2017. And there's a road-going Yaris hot hatch on the way too…
Toyota Gazoo Racing has today revealed the Toyota Yaris WRC car and announced its driver line-up for the 2017 World Rally Championship. It follows a near-two decade absence from the WRC, after Toyota withdrew at the end of the 1999 season (as manufacturer champions, mind).
Like all its rally rivals the Yaris WRC is equipped with a turbocharged and direct-injection 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, and with the wider-for-2017 36mm restrictor, power is claimed to be over 375bhp and while torque is at least 313lb ft. The Yaris WRC also sports the wide body and towering wings allowed by the new-generation rules and regulations, while the rear wheel arch vents appear to be filled with oversized After Eight mints.
Behind the wheel next season will be Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen, and they'll have nowhere to hide as four-time WRC champion Tommi Mäkinen is their team principal. Latvala signed from VW following its withdrawal from next year's WRC, and represents the team's best hope, having finished runner-up in the championship three times.
Speaking at the launch event in Helsinki, Finland today, Latvala said: 'I started my rally career in a Toyota Corolla GT back in 2001 and my first competitive outing in a World Rally Car was behind the wheel of a Corolla WRC in Estonia in 2003. So in many ways it feels like I’m coming home.'
We should tip our hat to Toyota president Akio Toyoda, too. Why? He's our kind of guy. He's raced a Lexus LFA at the Nurburgring, gave us the Toyota GT86, took Toyota back to Le Mans in 2012 (and after this year's heart-breaking loss on the penultimate lap, promised they'd be back in 2017) and now we have this WRC entry as well. It was also under his stewardship that all of Toyota's motorsport activities were united within Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2015, the team which started out in 2007 at the Nürburgring 24 Hours with a team of mechanics comprising employees selected from various departments within Toyota.
That, and he got a little emotional at the launch event: 'The other day I had the pleasure of sitting in the driving seat of our Yaris WRC and driving a few miles with Tommi. Experiencing the car’s sound and smell, the feel of the steering wheel and pedals, and, more than anything else, the look on Tommi’s face, I was able to share with him a feeling of confidence in our ability to compete with this car.'
Actually, it's not just that, there's more too: the return to the WRC has spurred Toyota into creating a performance-focused Yaris model. All we've got so far is the sketch below, but for a start, expect a 1.6-litre turbo and over 200bhp.