Rally legend Tommi Makinen will lead Toyota Gazoo Racing’s charge into the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2017, the outfit confirmed this week.
Makinen will be joined by Toyota president Akio Toyoda, noted motoring enthusiast and the driving force behind the launch of the 86 sports car, as team chairman. Known best for his time as the pilot of Mitsubishi’s hero Lancer Evolution rally car, Makinen claimed four consecutive championship titles between 1996 and 1999.
“I first met Tommi in 2013. At that time he was my instructor, helping me improve my driving technique. In the end, he taught me a lot more; he showed me the appeal of rallying and the relationship between vehicle development and rallying,” Akio Toyoda said today.
“As the pinnacle of rallying, WRC is the best way to experience roads all over the world - that's why Toyota is returning to the championship. And I am very happy and excited to have Tommi Mäkinen heading up our WRC team.”
Toyoda-san also acknowledged his company’s long absence from the WRC, while heaping praise on the drivers, team members and participating manufacturers - which currently include Volkswagen, Citroen and Hyundai as full factory-backed outfits, and Ford as a technical supporter.
Toyota’s return to the top-tier rally series was first detailed in January this year, when the company revealed that its Germany-based Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) would work with racing partner Gazoo in its assault on the championship.
Rather than the Corollas (and Celicas) of campaigns past, the new Toyota Gazoo racer will be based - oh so loosely - on the Yaris city car, this one built quite specifically to endure the varying conditions and high speeds of rally work. Power will be provided by a turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6 litre four-cylinder engine producing upwards of 300hp (224kW) and 420Nm.