Latvala wins and Lappi places fourth
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing secures the manufacturers’ title in only its second year back in WRC
Watched on by legions of fans, the No.7 Yaris WRC driven by Jari-Matti Latvala crossed the finishing line of the final stage. In that moment, the Finn secured his first victory since Round 2 in Sweden last season. Together with co-driver Miikka Anttila, Latvala stood on top of the roof of his Yaris WRC and, smiling shyly, communicated his victory to the fans. The members of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team, who had been awaiting their arrival at the finish area, applauded generously. This was the team’s fifth victory of the season, and a landmark 50th WRC victory in total for Toyota1. The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team had also secured the manufacturers’ championship2 in only their second year back in WRC, and a celebratory mood surrounded the podium in the forests of Australia. Team Principal Tommi Mäkinen expressed his gratitude for both his team and the team’s fans: “This title was the result of the hard work of the entire team. We were able to win thanks to all the people who supported us.”
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing starts strongly in pursuit of the championship
The team secured its first WRC manufacturers’ crown since 1999 in the best possible way, by winning the rally. It had entered the season-ending Rally Australia with a 12-point lead over its closest rival and, although victory had slipped through its grasp in the last two rallies, the Yaris WRC itself was running strongly. Indeed, on the gravel stages of Australia, the car again demonstrated outstanding performance. From the outset, the team’s three drivers were in a position to challenge for the podium.
The team’s main target in Australia was to win both championship titles: the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team held an advantage in the manufacturers’ championship, and it was still mathematically possible for Ott Tänak to claim the drivers’ championship. Although victory was out of his hands—even if he won the rally and scored maximum points on the Power Stage—the Estonian had his sights set on finishing first and attacked constantly. The stage surfaces were largely dry on Day One of the rally, and the roads that were covered with loose gravel were extremely slippery—this made it disadvantageous for drivers earlier in the running order. With the drivers at the top of the championship standings starting first, Tänak’s two title rivals could only finish the day in seventh place and below. However, Tänak himself recorded two stage wins on Day One, and finished the day in fifth overall, 16.9 seconds behind the leader. It was a positive start.
Tänak overcomes an unexpected issue to end Day Two in first place
Tänak was seeking to enhance his position on the morning of Day Two when disaster struck. His car, which was in parc fermé, would not start. The team pushed his car to the morning service area, but the mechanics had just 15 minutes to fix the problem. Given the limited time, the mechanics decided to replace hydraulic system parts, which they suspected to be at fault. This was a major job, and it was not clear whether 15 minutes would be long enough; however, through a combination of deep concentration and precise work, the team succeeded in replacing the parts within the allotted time. Tänak was able to begin Day Two without incurring any penalties, and he made his way to the start line full of gratitude for the team mechanics.
Since he had finished Day One in fifth overall, on Day Two Tänak started relatively late in the running order and avoided any significant disadvantage due to his starting position. He was able to demonstrate his true pace, and recorded the fastest time on six stages, rising to the top of the overall rankings as a result. However, championship leader Sébastien Ogier was in sixth place overall, and this would guarantee him enough points to defend his lead in the title race. With five consecutive World Rally Drivers’ Championships to his name, Ogier had a wealth of experience. Tänak wanted to put as much pressure on him as possible, and determined to attack aggressively to the very end.
Despite fighting to the very end, Tänak fails to overcome the reigning champion
At the start of Day Three, the last day of the rally, Tänak was the rally leader. Teammate Latvala was in second place, 21.9 seconds behind. However, having Hayden Paddon just 4.4 seconds further back in third place, Tänak’s lead was not comfortable by any means. In order to win the drivers’ title, the Estonian would have to continue attacking to the very end of the rally. Intermittent showers from Day Two meant that sections of the forest roads had turned into mud and were extremely slippery, and these conditions disadvantaged drivers starting later in the running order. Tänak was 11th to start and, following delays due to minor issues and errors, he ceded the rally lead to Latvala on SS20.
Whether to fight for the title to the very last stage, or to resign himself to second place. The Estonian started the second-to-last stage, SS23, with this exceedingly difficult decision still to be made. The road surfaces on SS23 were, on the whole, lacking in grip, and many drivers damaged their cars through accidents. Unfortunately, Tänak was one of them. Caught out by the slippery road surface, he took a left-hand turn too wide, careered off course, and damaged his suspension: his 2018 season had come to an end.
Team Principal Mäkinen was full of appreciation for Tänak’s efforts in coming third in the drivers’ championship: “I was a driver once, and I also had a similar experience to Ott, so I can fully understand his feelings. However, this year he was the fastest of all our drivers, and the team was able to develop further with him in the team. I have no doubt that next season we will see an even stronger Ott.”
Lappi performs strongly in his final rally in the Yaris WRC
Following Tänak’s retirement from the race, Paddon who was driving for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s main rivals, had risen to second overall. There was therefore immense pressure on Latvala and Lappi to secure the manufacturers’ championship. Although the team still had the upper hand, there was no room for carelessness heading into the final stage. Lappi was fourth overall, and he was highly focused as he started SS24.
For Lappi, SS24 would be the final stage at the wheel of the Yaris WRC. It was at his home rally, Rally Finland in 2017 that Lappi, secured his landmark first-ever victory in the Yaris WRC. Lappi was extremely fond of the car and, before their final adventure together, he and his co-driver Janne Ferm removed the mud from the Yaris WRC in the service area and polished the body. Perhaps recognizing the feelings of its driver, the No.9 Yaris WRC successfully delivered Lappi to fourth overall, and in so doing secured valuable manufacturers’ points. Lappi had accomplished his last, big job for the team flawlessly.
Lappi finished the season without scoring any victories. However, he stood on the podium on three occasions, secured strong finishes in a number of other rallies, and played a major role in the team’s manufacturers’ title. In addition, Lappi himself finished fifth in the drivers’ championship—this marked a significant improvement over the previous year, when he came 11th overall. The Finn, who has achieved remarkable growth as a WRC driver, will compete for a rival team next season and will, no doubt, prove to be a formidable opponent. The team would like to thank him for his significant contributions over the past two seasons, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
Latvala negotiates difficult road surfaces to taste victory for the first time in a long time
Latvala posted the fifth fastest time on the final stage, and at the finish line his expression was more of relief than delight. With the exception of Rallye Monte-Carlo, at which he placed third, Latvala had experienced a difficult first half of the season. He started to improve in the second half of the season, twice finishing second, but victory remained just out of reach. Latvala had feared the worst, commenting: “I may not win any races this season.” Since he became the youngest rally winner in the history of WRC in 2008, Latvala had won at least one rally per season. On the verge of ending this superb sequence, Latvala showed outstanding speed and secured a precious victory. On the final day of the rally, Latvala was fastest on three of the six stages. His skill and speed on difficult surfaces were clear to see, and it goes without saying that the points he gained were pivotal in securing the manufacturers’ title for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team.
With the team having achieved their goal of winning the manufacturers’ championship, Team Principal Mäkinen wrapped up a tumultuous 2018 season: “Since we first begun this project roughly three and a half years ago, both the team and our car have evolved at a greater pace than we had imagined possible. However, there are still many issues and we must continue to develop the car. We will work hard in the lead up to the new season so that next year, in addition to the manufacturers’ championship, we can be sure of securing the drivers’ championship as well.”
The Yaris WRC displays remarkable progress in its second year of competition
As mentioned by Mäkinen, this year the Yaris WRC has challenged for victory in many rallies, with Tänak taking four wins and Latvala one. Last season was the first since TOYOTA GAZOO Racing returned to the WRC and, in part due to a lack of experience and data, the car had a number of notable weak points. Insufficient traction proved to be a problem at many rallies in 2017; however, as a result of careful development tests by both engineers and drivers, this season the car showed significantly improved grip. To take one example, at different points both Tänak and Latvala led the Rally GB, which featured a succession of low-grip surfaces. Although the team was unable to win, its performance was proof of the great progress the car had made. In addition, during testing, the mechanics had replaced test parts over and over in difficult conditions, and provided strong support to the car’s development. Their swift and accurate work was indispensable to the evolution of the Yaris WRC.
Driver feedback leads to major gains in engine handling
The improved engine also contributed greatly to the rapid progress of the Yaris WRC’s development. Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG), based in Germany, led development of the 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder direct-injection turbo engine, and it displayed powerful performance from the very start of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s return to the WRC. However, at the request of the team’s drivers, who wanted “an easy to handle engine that performs well in all conditions,” TMG increased the power and torque of the engine at low and medium-speeds, and enhanced its drivability. The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team debuted the updated engine in Round 8, its home event Rally Finland, and it combined superb performance with significantly improved handling. As such, the engine provided powerful support to the team in the second half of the season. In addition, the team’s engineers had become better at managing the lifespan of the engine, and at the Rally Australia it maintained outstanding performance until the final stage of the rally. Clearly, the evolution of the engine was also a key element in the team’s championship victory.
Further progress is needed to secure both championship crowns
However, it is a fact that a number of issues remain. At Round 3 of the WRC, Rally México, the cars’ cooling systems could not cope with the conditions, and the Yaris WRCs overheated for the second year in a row. This happened despite the team believing they had prepared sufficiently, and as a result the team made a variety of further improvements, including the use of a new, Denso-made radiator. The team’s efforts proved a success: Rally of Turkey, Round 10, took place in scorching heat, but the cars experienced almost no issues with the temperatures. It goes without saying that overheating in Mexico is not an option if the team wants to win both championships next season: the team must further strengthen the cooling system by March 2019, when Rally México takes place.
There was also an issue with the Yaris WRC’s ability to withstand impacts. On a number of occasions this season, Tänak incurred damage to his cooling system due to impacts from the road surface on the underside of the car—and this cost him several potential victories. The primary reason for this damage was that the under guard, which is supposed to protect the underside of the car, was not strong enough. But of the team’s three drivers, only Tänak encountered such problems. This was because he often lowered the height of the vehicle more than his teammates in order to maximize handling performance. Increasing the volume of the under guard would of course result in increased strength; however, this would also make the front of the car heavier. This, in turn, would alter the front-rear weight distribution, and increase the likelihood of negative effects on handling. Fearing this, the team chose not to make strengthening the underside of the car—including the under guard—its highest priority but, as Tänak’s race results showed, this was perhaps an error of judgment. In the second-to-last event of the season, the Rally de España, practical improvements to the under guard proved to be effective. Going forward, however, the team will need to identify the optimal balance between durability and performance.
The team has secured the manufacturers’ championship—but development will continue
Every year, event organizers make changes to the stages used at each rally, while surface conditions can also vary drastically according to the weather. In addition, the team drivers each have their own preferred setups. It is one of the difficulties of rallying—and also one of its delights—that teams have to be capable of responding to such changes in a flexible manner, and continue seeking new answers. Veteran driver Kris Meeke will replace Lappi next season. Just as development of the Yaris WRC accelerated as a result of Tänak’s input, so Meeke will help the team the gain further knowledge and experience. There is no finishing line to the process of “making ever-better cars.” The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team will continue to work together and press forward as it seeks to achieve even greater success in the new season.
1 Toyota secured its first-ever victory as a works team at the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland in 1975.
2 Officially confirmed based on FIA results
|1||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||2h59m52.0s|
|2||Hayden Paddon||Seb Marshall||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+32.5s|
|3||Mads Ostberg||Torstein Eriksen||Citroen C3 WRC||+52.2s|
|4||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1m02.3s|
|5||Sebastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||+2m30.8s|
|6||Elfyn Evans||Daniel Barritt||Ford Fiesta WRC||+3m05.1s|
|7||Craig Breen||Scott Martin||Citroen C3 WRC||+6m28.8s|
|8||Alberto Heller||Jose Luis Diaz||Ford Fiesta R5||+22m28.5s|
|9||Steve Glenney||Andrew Sarandis||Skoda Fabia R5||+27m01.8s|
|10||Jourdan Serderidis||Lara Vanneste||Ford Fiesta WRC||+35m14.1s|
|Retired||Ott Tänak||Martin Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC|