Challenging to the end with the fastest speeds possible resulted in retiring from the rally
At the final battle of the season, more was gained than the second place that was lost
To a team based in Europe, the Rally Australia is held in the furthest country on the WRC calendar this year. In addition to the long distance, there is also a large time difference, and the seasons are the opposite from those in the northern hemisphere, meaning that November is actually summer. Therefore, drivers and team staff first had to get physically used to the Australian environment before starting the rally week. Moreover, normally, the car would be tested in advance on Australian roads and the settings established. However, development tests are banned outside of Europe. Therefore, the team has to find roads that are similar to those in Australia in Europe, which is not an easy task.
Esapekka Lappi commented, “The Australian gravel course is not like any other rallies. It is difficult to describe the type of road that it is.” Jari-Matti Latvala explained, “It is high speed overall and, in dry conditions, it appears to be similar to the Rally Great Britain. However, in wet conditions, the characteristics change, and part of the course is similar to Rally New Zealand. It is a complicated road in which various factors intermingle.” It is a highly diverse course that is difficult to express in a single word, making it an appropriate rally to finish the first season of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team.
Overcoming the car’s weak points to start the rally with confidence
This season, the Yaris WRC won the snow rally in Sweden and the gravel rally in Finland. These were both high speed rallies, and both roads had relatively strong grip. In such conditions, it can be said that the Yaris WRC already has the ability to win. However, in gravel rallies with a low level of grip, it often faces a tough battle, with understeer and insufficient traction proving to be significant issues throughout the entire year. These were the two main reasons why the team had a tough battle on the last gravel rally of the season, and development was continued for the final rally in Australia right up until the last minute.
In the shakedown on Thursday that became the first test driving chance in Australia, different suspension settings were tried out by Latvala and Lappi in a comparison test. The results indicated satisfactory handling. Latvala, who has a sufficient amount of past rally experience in Australia, started the rally with the confidence that he could battle it out for top place. However, the front of the car that Latvala was driving was damaged directly after the start of SS1. With difficulty obtaining down force on the front, he lost front and back aerodynamic balance, resulting in poor handling. In addition to the Yaris WRC, in the newly modified WR car used this season, aerodynamics greatly affect handling. Although this is advantageous, damage results in greatly reduced performance. In addition, Latvala had problems with the intercom wiring, which is required for communication with the co-driver, in SS1, and he was forced to drive without pace notes information. In SS2, he repaired the wiring himself and solved the problem, but this proved to be a difficult start for Latvala. Despite this, when the aero parts were repaired by a mechanic during the day service, the feeling of the car improved in the afternoon SS and he finished day 1 in a position that could challenge the winner’s podium.
Lappi overcame problems with his tough, highly-trained body
Meanwhile, Lappi experienced a power steering problem in SS2, and was forced to contend with heavy steering without any power assist. Although he had to spin in some situations without any control, he still continued to hold the increasingly heavy reins of the Yaris WRC with all of his strength. He somehow managed to finish all of the morning SSs and returned to the service park. After being subjected to pressure over a long period of time, his arms were bulging and swollen. Because he normally engages in physical training every day, Lappi was able to complete all of the SSs with heavy steering. Although he unfortunately lost a lot of time, Lappi did not lose his positive attitude.
On day 2 of the competition, the intricacy and difficulty of Rally Australia became clear. The irregularly falling rain made some parts of the course dry and some parts wet, creating inconsistent conditions. In such conditions, tire selection is of particular importance. As the team’s meteorological crew predictions proved to be on target, Latvala’s tire selection proved to be a success. Furthermore, in the difficult course with both wet and dry parts, the Yaris WRC demonstrated favorable handling, and Latvala was able to keep tackling the SSs with confidence. He recorded the second best time in SS9 and the best time in SS10. As many drivers lost time hesitating on the tricky road surface, Latvala remained steady and continued to carve out fast times, successfully increasing his overall position to second place. Lappi also drove steadily despite being the first driver on the course, displaying strategic driving throughout day 2, and preserving the soft tires for the final day. As he continued to drive under tough conditions, Lappi discovered various hints and was able to improve his experience and ability.
Lappi proved his growth through tricky conditions
On day 3, the final day of the rally, the weather became even more unstable than on the previous days. Torrential rain suddenly began to fall during the rally and the gravel immediately became muddy. If only a small amount of rain falls, the Australian gravel quickly absorbs it and becomes dry again relatively quickly. However, the heavy rain on day 3 greatly exceeded the ground’s absorbent ability, with muddy water flowing strongly down the downhill portions like a river. Despite the soft tires, it was impossible to gain a grip. The highly experienced top drivers were surprised, saying, “It’s scary how much you slip. It is like driving through a skate rink covered in trees. You slip even more in Rally Great Britain, which felt like a nightmare.” Lappi, who was also the first driver on the course on day 3, did not disguise his surprise, saying, “You have no control at all. It’s like you are on a boat.” Despite this, he still got past the deadlock with skillful driving. In the final SS Power Stage, which has bonus points, he recorded the third fastest time with perfect driving. He finished the debut season of the WR car in sixth place overall.
Latvala, who aimed for the fastest time, continued a full-scale attack until the final SS……
Latvala started day 3 in second place, 20.1 seconds behind first place. He valiantly continued his attack, aiming for a come-from-behind victory. Although faced with disadvantageous conditions such as facing heavy rain while driving through the SS, he still managed to narrow the difference with first place to 9.9 seconds in SS18. Proving that the Yaris WRC is a car that can be driven with confidence on slippery roads, Latvala continued in an attacking stance right up until the end. Although he made a daring attack with all of his strength in the final Power Stage, his left front wheel hit the stump of a tree on the inside of the left corner, damaging the suspension. Latvala lost control and deviated on the outside of the corner, forcing him to stop the machine. It was a truly dramatic and cruel ending despite his being so close to achieving second place.
Even Latvala was despondent as he returned to the service area, saying, “I entered into the corner just a little too early. It is all my responsibility. I feel extremely apologetic toward the team.” However, it was as a result of Latvala continuing to display all of his strength that the Yaris WRC, which had previously not been well-suited to tricky road surface conditions, was able to battle it out for the top position. The objective of creating a car with which drivers could confidently attack any type of road surface was finally achieved at the final rally of the season. Although unfortunately this evolution did not produce results, it proved that the directionality for development was not mistaken, and gave the team a very promising hope for the next season. When considered overall, more things were gained at the rally than the disappointment suffered.
More things are gained at rallies that didn’t go so well
As the team chairman, President Akio Toyoda commented on the first year of the WRC’s return as follows, “We had some great moments this year when we won in Sweden and Finland. But what actually made me even happier were the rallies that didn’t go so well for us, but allowed us to learn a lot and realize that we still had a long way to go. In Australia Jari-Matti stopped on the last stage and that is one example that tells us we still have things to improve—but we are always grateful for these opportunities to keep on learning.”
The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team, which basically started from scratch, experienced many joys and disappointments in its first year. The two victories were just as sweet as sugar confectionary, and was the ultimate reward to motivate the team staff who continuously make efforts on a daily basis. However, the many bittersweet rallies in which results were lost to trouble or accidents also proved to be important food for growth, playing a key role in development of the team and car. The fact that for good or bad, the results appear in black and white, is both a thrilling and tough facet of motor sports. The important thing is to turn negative energy into positive energy and not to make the same mistake twice. Based on our experiences in 2017, the next season’s team will aim for even better results.
|1||Thierry Neuville||Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||2h35m44.8s|
|2||Ott Tänak||Martin Jarveoja||Ford Fiesta WRC||+22.5s|
|3||Hayden Paddon||Seb Marshall||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+59.1s|
|4||Sebastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||+2m27.7s|
|5||Elfyn Evans||Daniel Barritt||Ford Fiesta WRC||+3m05.6s|
|6||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+3m49.5s|
|7||Kris Meeke||Paul Nagle||Citroen C3 WRC||+22m58.4s|
|8||Richie Dalton||John Allen||Skoda Fabia R5||+24m39.6s|
|9||Nathan Quinn||Ben Searcy||Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX||+25m03.4s|
|10||Dean Herridge||Sam Hill||Subaru Impreza WRX STi||+29m52.3s|
|Ret||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC|