Toyota eyes three cars for 2017 return

As Toyota stays in Finland for 2016

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By www.wrc.com

5 December 2015 - 13:23
Toyota eyes three cars for 2017 (...)

Toyota could run three cars when it returns to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2017, according to team principal Tommi Mäkinen.

The Finn, who will oversee Toyota’s return after a 17-year absence, said discussions had started with potential drivers for seats in the team’s all-new Yaris World Rally Car.

"We are in discussions with various drivers for 2017, bearing in mind that we hope to enter at least two, if not three, vehicles into the championship," said Mäkinen.

Should Toyota GAZOO Racing enter three cars, they could be split between two teams in the way Volkswagen and Hyundai operates. Alternatively they could run within one team, with two of the three cars nominated for manufacturer points.

Mäkinen also revealed his team would begin building the first Yaris ’very soon’.

"Right now, we are in the process of designing the car. Our team of engineers and designers, along with our suppliers, have worked tirelessly to meet the schedule and develop a car that could be a winner.

"Testing is due to start during spring 2016. An extensive schedule has already been drawn up in order to hold tests in Finland and around the world," he said.

Mäkinen ended months of on-off speculation about the involvement of Cologne-based Toyota Motorsport (TMG), which is owned by the Japanese manufacturer and built a separate Yaris rally car [pictured above] before responsibility for Toyota’s return was handed to Mäkinen.

"TMG is a key partner for us. It is responsible for designing and producing the Yaris WRC’s engine, which will be an exclusively Toyota unit," he added.

Jarmo Lehtinen, former co-driver to Mikko Hirvonen, brings experience as sporting director and Lauri Riipinen, who worked with Mäkinen from 2005 to 2013, is operations director.

Michael Zotos, Mäkinen’s rally engineer when he drove for Subaru, is confirmed as technical director, and Simon Carrier, who headed the Ford Focus RS design team at M-Sport, is chief designer. Tom Fowler, Hirvonen’s engineer at Ford, is chief of engineering and Mikko Ruoho, a Tommi Mäkinen Racing engineer since 2007, is chief of electronics.

Toyota stays in Finland for 2016

Toyota’s WRC base will remain in Finland next year before a likely switch to a new location when it begins its championship programme in 2017.

Toyota GAZOO Racing team principal Tommi Mäkinen spoke of his pride at retaining the workshops and design offices in 2016 at his premises in Puuppola, close to Jyväskylä which hosts Neste Oil Rally Finland.

"We’re delighted to be running this project in a country where rallying is considered a national sport and a genuine source of pride. It’s also an ideal place to develop our car, with many options for testing.

"However, we’re looking at different options to accommodate a works team and its required facilities for 2017," explained Mäkinen, who said the squad would register under the Japanese flag when it re-enters WRC with a Yaris World Rally Car after a 17-year absence.

He has more than 40 staff and acknowledged several positions have yet to be filled as he races to build a team from scratch in a relatively short timeframe.

"We’re looking for people who are ready to work hard on this project and join a team that works like a big family. We’ll all work together, hand in hand. We’re looking for people with strong characters and individual strengths, who at the same time are able to fit into the team.

"I understand this project may have seemed difficult to pull off given the relatively short amount of time we have to set it up. However, we’ve worked hard to build a structured, professional and responsive team.

"The efficiency of the people involved in the project has made it possible to stick to the initial schedule and meet our objectives. Obviously, there’s a lot of work still to do but we’re more than ready for that."

Mäkinen, who visited Japan last month to meet team chairman Akio Toyoda and other senior Toyota representatives, stressed his desire to match the manufacturer’s ’lean and efficient operation’.

"I want to have the same conquest feeling as we had with our small Mitsubishi team. You don’t need to have the biggest budget or team in order to win. The most important thing is relaxing and enjoying the experience, and sharing it with people who feel the same way."

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