The Yaris WRC has the speed to compete for victory; however, unexpected troubles lead the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT to miss out on a podium finish

    Heavy rains and thunderstorms continued across Argentina, and the ground was soaked with huge amounts of water. Sandy road surfaces usually drain comparatively well; on this occasion, however, the drainage was unable to keep up with the quantity of rain, and parts of the course turned into mud. During their pre-race recces (an abbreviation of “reconnaissance,” where drivers check out the courses before the start of the rally), some drivers got trapped in the deep mud, unable to get out. In such poor road conditions, earlier versions of the Yaris WRC did not perform well—the car lacked traction on slippery road surfaces, meaning that the power generated by the engine could not be fully transmitted through the wheels. However, as a result of steady improvements, the team had significantly increased the car’s grip on slippery surfaces; indeed, at the end of the last season, the Yaris WRC had demonstrated ample speed even on muddy courses. Rally Argentina, Round 5 of the FIA World Rally Championship, was the first muddy rally of 2019 season and, from the start, the Yaris WRC was fast. Ott Tänak recorded the quickest time during the shakedown, with Kris Meeke just 0.7 seconds behind. The car was in superb condition.

    The Yaris WRC goes quickest for the 200th time

    Tänak recorded the fastest time at the Super Special Stage, which took place on the evening of April 25 at Villa Carlos Paz, where the rally service park was located. The first genuine gravel stage took place on the morning of Day Two—Meeke went quickest and teammate Tänak was second, so maintaining the team’s strong performance. Indeed, at the end of SS4, the overall standings showed what an incredible start the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT had made: Meeke was first, Tänak second, and Jari-Matti Latvala third. Over the course of Rally Argentina, the Yaris WRC clinched a total of seven stage wins. One of these wins, recorded by Tänak, was the car’s 200th quickest time, making the Yaris WRC the first World Rally Car to achieve this landmark under the current regulations.

    The Yaris WRC clearly had the speed to compete for overall victory at Rally Argentina. In the end, however, just like at the Tour de Corse in the previous round, the car was unable to secure a podium finish. Meeke would go on to be the highest-placed TOYOTA GAZOO Racing driver in fourth overall; Latvala would finish fifth, and Tänak eighth. In 2018, Tänak had been the runaway winner, clinching his first victory as a member of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT. He therefore came to this year’s rally thoroughly prepared and full of confidence. But this only made his failure to finish on the podium all the more disappointing.

    Meeke battles for third place with World Champion Ogier

    Meeke has fond memories of Argentina, as it was here that he won his first WRC rally in 2015. At this year’s event—his first time competing in the rally in the Yaris WRC—he showed superb speed from the start, taking the overall lead from Tänak after SS4, and maintaining it until SS6. Thereafter, Meeke had difficulties coping with the changing surface conditions and dropped to fourth overall. The following day, a puncture and a 10-second penalty for deviating from the course saw him fall further behind. Nevertheless, the Northern Irishman remained in a position to fight for a podium finish, and in the last few stages of the rally he engaged in a fierce battle for third place with Sébastien Ogier.

    On the final day, Meeke recorded his second SS win of the event on Rally Argentina’s famed El Cóndor stage. On SS17 which followed, he overtook Ogier to move up to third place overall. Then, on the final stage—which was a rerun of El Cóndor—Meeke continued to attack, hoping to clinch his first podium of the season. However, with approximately six kilometers to go, he lost air in his tires, was forced to slow, and could only finish the stage with the sixth fastest time; Ogier, on the other hand, went quickest. They swapped positions as a result, with Meeke dropping to fourth, just 1.4 seconds behind his rival and out of the podium places.

    Meeke commented: “The car was working really well. The rhythm was good and we continued that into the Power Stage. I got a warning light to say the tire pressures were going down. I have no idea where it happened. I tried my best, and sometimes it's like this.” He was just a second away from a place on the podium—yet fourth overall was his best finish since joining the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT. Since the start of the season, Meeke has steadily accumulated points in every rally, and he is growing more and more familiar with the Yaris WRC. He looked back on the Rally Argentina with positivity, saying: “I have to keep doing what I'm doing, I know it's going to come right.”

    Latvala rediscovers his true speed and fights back in the final stages of the rally

    Latvala had struggled during the first four rallies of the season. In Argentina, although he was third overall in the early stages of the rally, he was delayed by a loss of tire pressure and lack of traction. By the end of Day Two, he had fallen to eighth overall. After that, however, everything began to click into place, and from SS11 to SS13 on Day Three, he recorded the third fastest time three times in a row. On SS14, he went second quickest as his form improved further, and he started the final day of the rally in sixth overall. On SS17, the second Special Stage of the day, Latvala went second quickest again; the Finn also performed strongly on SS18, the Power Stage, where he finished just 0.1 seconds behind the leader. This secured him four bonus championship points and saw him finish Rally Argentina with a flourish, in fifth overall.

    Electric system issues hinder Tänak’s fine form

    Last season, Tänak clinched his first victory for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT at Rally Argentina. This season, his pace was again among the best. He battled fiercely for the rally lead on Day Two, moving to the top with his third fastest time of the rally on SS7. However, on SS8, he was forced to slow due to trouble with his drive shaft. Even then, Tänak was in third place and only 13.4 seconds off the lead, and retained a strong chance of competing for overall victory. He lined up on the morning of Day Three determined to fight back, and a further two stage wins saw him rise to second overall, within touching distance of the lead. Since the afternoon’s stages were a rerun of the morning’s stages, Tänak’s chance of reclaiming the rally lead were high. But on SS13, the first of the afternoon stages, there was a problem with his car. The voltage of Tänak’s battery dropped, significantly affecting his time. Although he somehow managed to cling on to second place overall, on SS14 his battery problem grew worse. Tänak was aware that the problem was extremely serious, but he opted to start the stage anyway. However, partway through the course, the car suffered another large drop in voltage from the battery and came to a standstill. With no means of fixing the issue, Tänak was forced to retire from the rest of the day’s stages.

    An investigation revealed a problem with the car’s alternator, which keeps the battery charged with electricity. The team had suffered alternator issues on a number of occasions last year, and it had run into problems again in Round Three, Mexico, earlier this season. The team’s engineers began looking for solutions immediately after the conclusion of Rally Mexico, and had worked together with the parts supplier to make improvements. The team suffered no repeat problems in Round Four, Tour de Corse—but in Argentina, the alternator once again turned out to be the car’s weakness. The team analyzed the issue while the rally was still in progress, and determined that the problem was not with the alternator itself, but with the attachment part. This was an issue that the team had not encountered before, either during testing or during actual rallies; but this was no excuse. Technical Director Tom Fowler was extremely sorry for the issues experienced by Tänak. As soon as the rally finished, he returned to the team’s factory in Finland to begin work on improvements without taking a break.

    TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT asks Toyota’s production car engineers for help with quality improvements

    As far as the alternator is concerned, the team ideally wanted to create and install a new component immediately. Unfortunately, however, there was no time, since the next round, Rally Chile, begins in a week’s time. For this reason, the team’s engineers and technicians decided to pool their knowledge and implement emergency measures to the parts concerned. In addition, Toyota’s Keiichi Kondo, who joined the team in January as a technical coordinator, has drawn up an improvement plan. However, this plan is not limited to the alternator and surrounding areas alone. There is a possibility that, like this alternator problem, the Yaris WRC is hiding other unexpected issues. The team will therefore carry out a thorough investigation of every part of the Yaris WRC’s structure and design, and make any necessary improvements. The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT has also been in contact with Toyota’s electrical system engineers, with the aim of making quality improvements from the standpoint of production car engineers. The quality improvement plan will begin as soon as Rally Chile finishes.

    The road conditions at this season’s Rally Argentina were extremely poor, in part due to extended rain. In fact, the impacts from the ground were strong enough to crack Tänak’s front window. These impacts also affected the car body and, despite having an extremely tough design, it deformed slightly. As a result, the team made repairs to the bodies of all its cars before sending them to Chile. Mechanics from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Argentina gathered to help, and the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT’s mechanics worked together with them to make the modifications. Having received the support of large numbers of Toyota collaborators, the team is now making its final preparations for Rally Chile.

    Pos Driver Co-Driver Vehicle Time
    1 Thierry Neuville Nicolas Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3h20m54.6s
    2 Andreas Mikkelsen Anders Jaeger-Amland Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +48.4s
    3 Sebastien Ogier Julien Ingrassia Citroën C3 WRC +1m04.8s
    4 Kris Meeke Seb Marshall Toyota Yaris WRC +1m06.2s
    5 Jari-Matti Latvala Miikka Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +1m21.1s
    6 Dani Sordo Carlos del Barrio Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1m26.7s
    7 Teemu Suninen Marko Salminen Ford Fiesta WRC +4m57.3s
    8 Ott Tänak Martin Järveoja Toyota Yaris WRC +14m24.8s
    9 Mads Ostberg Torstein Eriksen Citroën C3 WRC +14m28.5s
    10 Pedro Heller Marc Marti Ford Fiesta R5 +20m14.5s