TOYOTA GAZOO Racing secures a podium finish on its return to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) after 17 years
With high morale, the team swears to compete with all its might in the remaining 12 rounds of the season
For Toyota, returning to the WRC after a 17-year absence, the Rallye Monte-Carlo was not just the first race of the series. Boasting the longest history of the WRC events, it is the rally that every driver wants to compete in at least once; drivers dream of standing on the top of the podium here. However, it is no easy task to win in Monte-Carlo. Many World Champions have retired without having realized their ambition of victory at Monte-Carlo.
Between 1999 and 2002, Tommi Mäkinen, Team Principal of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT, won four consecutive races at Monte Carlo. “No other rally is as difficult to predict as Monte -Carlo. The course invites mistakes, the weather and road conditions are constantly changing, and that also makes tire choice difficult. It truly is a challenging and unique rally.”
Mäkinen, who knows Monte-Carlo inside out, had from a while back decided on a cautious approach to Monte-Carlo, which was to be TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT’s first race back at the WRC. Thanks to the efforts of engineers, drivers and the whole team, the Yaris WRC was in a position to compete in the rally despite an extremely short development period. However, since it had been developed from scratch, there was no way of knowing what its performance would be in the actual rally. There was also a distinct possibility that the vehicle would be struck by unexpected issues. In addition, since the majority of time during the development testing was spent on gravel, it was a fact that the Yaris WRC would start the rally in a setup that wasn’t optimized for Monte-Carlo’s tarmac.
Yet, from the start of the rally, the Yaris WRC demonstrated sufficient speed to compete among the front-runners. In SS2, Juho Hänninen recorded the third fastest time and finished Day One of competition in third position , which exceeded the team’s expectations. On Day Two, the Yaris WRC again maintained outstanding speed, and both Hänninen and teammate Jari-Matti Latvala consistently recorded leading times. Though Hänninen, who was in third position overall after SS5, was forced to retire after driving off-course, Latvala continued to perform superbly and rose to fourth overall. Driving within the car’s limits to ensure it would finish the race, Latvala progressively increased his pace and managed to mark the third best time in SS7.
At this year’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, large areas of the course were covered in snow. Though the tarmac was dry, ice remained in shady sections, making for tricky conditions. However, Latvala cleared section after section of the difficult course with unflustered driving. He said with a smile: “The more you drive the Yaris WRC, the easier it becomes to drive. There is no need to make major changes to the settings. I can feel the performance increasing further with minor fine tuning.”
The strong performance of both Latvala and the Yaris WRC continued into Day Three. Though some of the other leading drivers encountered accidents or other problems, Latvala’s Yaris WRC was only affected by a minor sensor system issue, which caused no significant loss of time. Latvala rose to third in the standings as a result; Hänninen, who was racing again after repairs to his vehicle, was now in 16th. The two Yaris WRCs entered the Monaco parc ferme together, and preparations commenced for the final day’s racing.
Day Four started in Monaco, with the total length of SS at just around 50 km. At Monte-Carlo, however, it is wise to prepare for the unexpected until the very end. In the past, many drivers have met with problems or accidents just before the finish line and been forced to hold back their tears. For this reason, both Yaris WRCs were driven to the finishing line with great care. As it happened, the competitor running in second place suffered engine trouble, allowing Latvala to climb into second position. Competing in the WRC for the first time in 17 years, the Yaris WRC secured a wholly unexpected second place in its debut event. In addition, Hänninen recorded the third fastest time on the Power Stage of the final SS to secure the bonus points awarded to the fastest drivers. The Yaris WRC demonstrated once again that it was a car that had the ability to compete among the top three.
“If you had told me before the start of the rally that this is where we would finish, I would never have believed it,” said Latvala. “I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the team, who have developed such a wonderful machine.” Mäkinen, meanwhile, praised the performance of his drivers: “Jari-Matti had a problem with a sensor during the rally, which was distracting him, and there was a worry that if he stopped the car in the stage he might not be able to restart. But how he coped with this was very impressive. Juho also demonstrated strong pace to compete with the front-runners.” TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT team members welcomed the drivers and Yaris WRCs back to Monaco with a mixture of relief and satisfaction.
Team Vice-Principal Koei Saga, who watched over all four days of competition, enjoyed the excellent result and, at the same time, objectively analyzed the current state of the team and the Yaris WRC. He determined to further accelerate the pace of development on the vehicle: “I’m so happy that we have finished the first rally of our return with a result that is better than expected, as we aim to make ever-better cars. I’d like to thank all our team members and crews for their hard work, as well as all the fans who have been waiting for us to come back for 17 years. It’s clear that we have good potential, but our competitors are very strong and we still have plenty of work to do to be regarded as their rivals in a real sense.”
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT experienced a smooth start to the 2017 WRC, but it still has a long way to go to achieve its objectives. The team will, no doubt, face times of difficulty. However, after the placing second at Monte-Carlo, all the members of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT are working with greater motivation, and have sworn to do their utmost in the remaining 12 rounds of the season.
|1||Sebastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||4h00m03.6s|
|2||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||+2m15.0s|
|3||Ott Tanak||Martin Jarveoja||Ford Fiesta WRC||+2m57.8s|
|4||Dani Sordo||Marc Marti||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+3m35.8s|
|5||Craig Breen||Scott Martin||Citroen DS3 WRC||+3m47.8s|
|6||Elfyn Evans||Daniel Barritt||Ford Fiesta WRC||+6m45.0s|
|7||Andreas Mikkelsen||Anders Jaeger||Skoda Fabia R5||+9m32.7s|
|8||Jan Kopecky||Pavel Dresler||Skoda Fabia R5||+12m58.1s|
|9||Stephane Lefebvre||Gabin Moreau||Citroen C3 WRC||+14m43.8s|
|10||Bryan Bouffier||Denis Giraudet||Ford Fiesta R5||+16m09.4s|
|16||Juho Hänninen||Kaj Lindström||Toyota Yaris WRC||+32m16.8s|