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The 2017 World Rally Car – Toyota’s comeback

October 24, 2016

Automotive giant, Toyota, joins four of the world’s 10 biggest car manufacturers in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship, adding another dimension to what is poised to be the start of a new and dynamic era at the premier level of the sport.

The Japanese car maker has a long and illustrious history in rallying where it was first represented in 1972 with the Celica, which finished ninth in the hands of legendary Swede Ove Andersson on the RAC Rally. Toyota Team Europe – following in the footsteps of Andersson Motorsport which ran Corollas and Celicas – was subsequently formed by the Swede in 1975 and Hannu Mikkola took the team’s first win, in its first season in the FIA World Rally Championship, on the awesome 1000 Lakes Rally.

Some of the biggest names in world rallying have piloted Toyota machinery; Mikkola, Björn Waldegård, Juha Kankkunen, Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol and Marcus Grönholm – to name but a few – and with their successes brought Toyota three titles in the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers. Sainz, Kankkunen and Auriol also won four Drivers’ Championships behind the wheel of the Celica, Toyota’s most successful rally car.

Absent from the sport since the end of 1999, the world’s second largest car manufacturer by sales – behind automotive and soon-to-be WRC rival Volkswagen – has again chosen the FIA World Rally Championship to showcase its technology. Now running under the banner of Toyota GAZOO Racing, the all-new Yaris WRC will break cover in the series in January 2017 with four-time FIA World Rally Champion Tommi Mäkinen at the helm of the operation. With more than 10,000 kilometres of testing under their belt, Mäkinen is all too aware it is impossible to know where they are before the famous Rallye Monte-Carlo kicks off on 19 January, but the Finn’s plans for an even tougher test programme until the end of the year will help pave the way for a successful return to the WRC for Toyota.

Koei Saga and Tommi Mäkinen talk about Toyota’s return to the WRC:

Koei Saga, Team Vice Principal and Senior Managing Officer of Toyota Motor Corporation, talks about the company’s return to a sport that brought many a glory day for its Championship-winning rally cars.

What does it mean for Toyota to be back in the FIA World Rally Championship?
Koei Saga:
“We want to make ever-better cars, and therefore we are training our people under this slogan. When it comes to rallies, it is a position where we use cars that our customers drive on the roads as well, so this is the best condition to train our engineers and to test our products. The WRC is the summit of competition, so to speak, so we have the best conditions and best rallies to test our cars and our customers will see our team competing in the WRC and share the excitement.”

Why did Toyota feel it was important, and that now was the right time to return to the WRC?
Koei Saga:
“It is a very big project for Toyota and we are always telling you we want to make ever-better cars, but we have to prove this as well, so we want to show our customers and fans we are also doing something concrete. This is a very good opportunity to show them what we are doing. 2017 is also the year when the regulations change and we have to make our car from scratch, so this is very good timing for us. 2017 is also the 60th anniversary of our first rally in Australia; we had this grand Australian Trial in 1957 so we come back to our roots.”

Is there a sense of anticipation in Japan, with fans now having a home team to support and especially when so many of them will remember Toyota’s successes of the past?
Koei Saga:
“We have our old traditional fans who know us from our WRC era and of course they are cheering us, and at the same time we want to meet their expectations. But we also want to get new fans, especially the younger generation; we want to reach out to them and have a bigger fan community.”

Setting up a team of people at Tommi Mäkinen Racing must have been the first big challenge, before you could even think about designing a new car?
Koei Saga:
“That’s right, but we have a very good team leader with Tommi and all the team members are very passionate to make ever-better cars with high speed. We have a very compact facility to get great teamwork together. We started from scratch so it is of course a challenge to get all the staff, but Tommi shared our passion and he also understands our philosophy that we can relate with ‘I love cars!’, see cars as a companion, and he really understands this philosophy and he takes care of this message to his colleagues and our staff, so I really think we have an expert team.”

How much energy has gone into this project; has it been 24/7 since it started?
Koei Saga:
“The whole of the team, they gave all and everything and they are working 24/7 on this project. They all share this one goal that we want to win, and they have this passion and therefore this works.”

Have there been advantages to designing the Yaris WRC from scratch for the new regulations in 2017, or is it a disadvantage in that Toyota has no current World Rally Car as a benchmark?
Koei Saga:
“It can be an advantage because we are free of influences from the past when it comes to the design or the legacy we have, but of course it is difficult to have no benchmark. When it comes to rallying it is not just about competitive times, so it is maybe a deficit not to have a car that is now running so that we can compare. However we are always determined to make ideal cars and ever-better cars so we are always pursuing the best, so maybe there is no benchmark needed at all. We have a very good team with a lot of experience so I don’t have to worry so much.”

As a new manufacturer coming to the Championship you have the benefit of unlimited testing. Does this give Toyota an edge over the other manufacturers?
Koei Saga:
“When it comes to testing the vehicles it is always important to run the cars, and this is an important point, and it is an advantage that we have no limit in the kilometres to run the test because we understand more the more we run the cars. However other companies have, on the other hand, many of the development assets we do not have and they also have the experience that our team hasn’t, so maybe you cannot tell from the beginning that this is the only advantage.”

Do you feel ready for January 2017?
Koei Saga:
“Yes, the last time we had a victory at this competition was when I was the General Manager of the Motor Sport section, and that is a long time ago. Of course things have changed and I had some concerns, but I could reassure myself that our staff are doing a really really good job, a splendid job. I think of course we will confront many challenges but we from Japan, the headquarters staff, will support the team on site and we all share the ‘one team, one dream’ slogan, so I am very much convinced we will have good results and I’m very much looking forward to the competition.”


Juho Hänninen named as TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC driver in 2017!

October 18, 2016

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is delighted to announce that Finnish driver Juho Hänninen and his co-driver Kaj Lindström will compete in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship.

Led by four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Mäkinen, the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC team has been working around the clock and racking up the miles in the Yaris WRC since the beginning of the year. Involved in the intense development program as the official test driver, Juho Hänninen has a good understanding of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s goal—making ever-better cars—and was the obvious choice to work with during the Japanese brand’s first season competing in the FIA World Rally Championship. He has signed a one-year contract, with an option to extend beyond 2017.

After winning the Intercontinental Rally Challenge championship in 2010, Juho built on his success by claiming the FIA S-WRC title in 2011 and then becoming European Rally Champion the year after. He took part in the top category on various occasions in 2013 and 2014, delivering impressive performances at events such as Rally Sweden, Rally Poland and Rally Finland. He will be completing a full programme with the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC team in 2017, alongside co-driver Kaj Lindström.

“This really feels like a dream come true!” noted the Finnish driver. “Joining a works team with such potential for a full season is a real opportunity for me. We have been working together since the car’s first outing, so that makes it all the more exciting and motivating. The Yaris WRC is incredible. I can’t wait to get started at the Rallye Monte-Carlo!”

Tommi Mäkinen, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Team Principal, was pleased with the choice of Juho, reiterating that the 2017 season would be first and foremost a learning experience for the entire team. “When he joined the team, Juho was incredibly motivated and involved,” said Mäkinen. “He also understood very clearly that we didn’t want to cut any corners and that the 2017 season would be about coming to grips with the championship and learning. He has quite a lot of experience in World Rally Championship, and I’m sure that because he has developed the Yaris WRC from the beginning, he knows the car best. Therefore, it seems to be the perfect combination to me. I know that everyone in the team will do their very best to ensure that all the energy and hard work spent on this project over the last few months bring us success.”

Koei Saga, chief officer and technical director of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Factory, and also TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Team Vice-Principal, made the following comment: “I am delighted that Juho will be part of the team for the 2017 season. Juho has been involved in the development of the Yaris WRC since the start of the project. We are looking forward to working together with him as we target a podium finish at the earliest possible opportunity and continue to strive to make ever-better cars.”

About Juho Hänninen

Date of birth: 25 July 1981 (35 years old)
Nationality: Finnish
Career highlights:
2001:First rally, SM Valvoline Rally (Finland)
2006:First WRC rally, Rally Sweden
2008:First victory, Rally Russia (Intercontinental Rally Challenge with Peugeot 207 S2000)
2010:IRC Champion (with Skoda Fabia S2000)
2011:FIA SWRC Champion (with Skoda Fabia S2000)
2012:FIA ERC Champion (with Skoda Fabia S2000)
WRC statistics:
WRC starts: 43
Points scored: 54
Stage wins: 3


2017 Hyundai Driver Line-Up Finalised – Two-year contract extension for Thierry Neuville

October 5, 2016

We are delighted to announce that we have finalised our driver line-up for 2017! Our two-time WRC winner Thierry has signed a contract extension that will see him stay with our team for the next two seasons.

Thierry Neuville will compete alongside co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul as part of a three-crew line-up. With Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo also on board for the next two seasons, we have important stability as we enter an exciting new chapter for our sport with brand new regulations coming into effect.

A winning partnership

Having joined us back in November 2013, Thierry has played an integral role in helping to establish our team within the WRC. He was responsible for a number of milestones during our inaugural season in 2014, including our first podium in Mexico and our maiden victory in Germany.

He has continued to build on these successes, having scored a second victory in Sardinia back in June. He has amassed a total of nine podium finishes with our team, the most recent of which was a second-place finish in Corsica last weekend.

“I am delighted to extend my contract for two more years,” said a pleased Thierry. “2017 will be a new era for the WRC with the revised regulations. With a new car next year, and even more ambitious targets, I am excited by what this next chapter will bring.”

Our Team Principal Michel Nanadan added: “Thierry has been a great asset to our team. There has been a lot of talk about Thierry’s future, so the fact we continue together shows the strength of our relationship. We have had some great memories, as well as some difficult moments, but overall we’ve been on a positive growth curve together.”

Consistency is key

In the past three seasons, we have seen our team go from strength to strength. By securing the same driver line-up, we will have a strong foundation upon which we can continue to sustain our challenge during a new era of rallying.

“Now we have finalised our driver line-up with Thierry, Hayden and Dani, we can aim for a competitive finish to our 2016 season, as well as focusing on development of our 2017 challenger,” concludes Michel.


Citroën reveals its crews for the 2017 & 2018 FIA WRC

October 5, 2016

Just a few days after the Citroën C3 WRC concept car was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show, Citroën Racing has announced the crews that will be competing for the team in the next two seasons of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Already confirmed to drive for the team until 2018, Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle will be joined by Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau. Chairman of Abu Dhabi Racing, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi will also be competing with his co-driver Chris Patterson at some events in 2017.

Step by step, Citroën Racing continues to assemble the necessary ingredients for its return as a works team in the FIA World Rally Championship. Since April of this year, the Citroën C3 WRC has completed seven development tests, both on gravel and tarmac, and is now very close to the final version.

Until 16 October, visitors to the Paris Motor Show can also admire the Citroën C3 WRC concept car, a veritable exercise in style that heralds the new generation of World Rally Cars, which are set to make their competitive debut at the 2017 Rallye Monte-Carlo.

By announcing now their driver and co-driver line-up for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Citroën Racing takes another important step forward, one which has been highly anticipated by many WRC observers!

After confirming Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle at the end of last year, the line-up is now completed by two crews considered to be among the most promising young talents in the WRC. Having come to prominence in the rally programmes of the PSA Group and competing this season for the Abu Dhabi Total WRT, Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau convinced Citroën to put their faith in youth.

This choice is very much in line with Citroën’s long-held policy aimed at identifying and developing talented young rally drivers. In the last 15 years or more, Citroën has identified some of the best in the business: Loeb, Ogier, Sordo, Neuville, Camilli and of course Meeke. Breen and Lefebvre are destined to add their names to this illustrious list!

At the start of the season, the team will enter two Citroën C3 WRCs: one for Kris Meeke and the other for either Craig Breen or Stéphane Lefebvre, who will alternate driving duties. The exact distribution of events to drivers will be announced at a later stage and Citroën will start entering three cars as soon as possible. The FIA’s World Motorsport Council recently decided it would let manufacturers enter three cars, the top two scoring points towards the Manufacturers World Championship.

At some rounds of the 2017 World Championship, a fourth Citroën C3 WRC will also be entered for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson.

Already involved in the development of the Citroën C3 WRC, Kris Meeke, Craig Breen, Stéphane Lefebvre and Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi will continue to conduct testing until the new car completes homologation. At the same time, they will be competing at this year’s Rally de España (Meeke, Breen, Al-Qassimi) and Wales Rally GB (Meeke, Breen, Lefebvre) in order to acquire experience driving the current cars.

Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: “We had several scenarios regarding the choice of our crews for the future. Kris Meeke was confirmed at the end of last year and has become the natural leader of the team. As well as challenging for the lead on each of his appearances in 2016, winning in Portugal and in Finland, he has also done most of the development work for our Citroën C3 WRC. In choosing two young crews to complete the line-up, I don’t think we can be accused of having gone for the easy option. But this original solution is very much aligned with Citroën’s mindset. And having seen them compete this season for the Abu Dhabi Total WRT, we believe in the potential of Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre. They have the natural talent, motivation and work ethic to win rallies. I would also say we are proud to take these young drivers – who have been with the PSA Group for many years – up to the top level of the sport. At the start of the season, we’ll have no choice but to have them take turns behind the wheel in the second Citroën C3 WRC. However, as soon as possible, our three crews will be starting each round. Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi is a true ambassador for rallying in the Middle-East and we are very pleased to support him in his approach.”


Microsoft and Toyota join forces in FIA WRC

September 29, 2016

Today at the Paris Motor Show, Toyota announced it has reached an agreement with Microsoft to collaborate in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) series. As part of the agreement, Microsoft will serve as a “technology partner” for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC rally team.

Yaris WRC Test Car

Motorsports offer an important way to convey the excitement of driving, and are at the heart of Toyota’s efforts to foster a greater following of car fans and enthusiasts. Conducting these activities under the umbrella of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing allows Toyota to develop its people and improve its products, thereby contributing to the creation of “ever-better cars”. Under the leadership of Team Principal Tommi Mäkinen, Toyota is developing a rally vehicle scheduled to begin competing in 2017.

Using Microsoft technology, Toyota wants to maximize its competitiveness in WRC, whilst ensuring that learnings from the race course can be used to achieve the company’s vision of designing and manufacturing “ever-better cars”.

Microsoft will support TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in three key areas:

  • Development of a data analysis platform to gather, visualize and analyse various data related to driving which will be utilised in race activities.
  • Creation of a team information-sharing system to allow team members to collaborate and share various materials such as images and videos efficiently and effectively using a cloud service.
  • Enhancement of communication with fans through providing services utilizing the cloud and using Microsoft’s display devices to provide them with a front-row motorsports experience.

Today’s announcement builds on the existing partnership between Toyota and Microsoft. Most recently, the two companies collaborated on the establishment of Toyota Connected, a new user experience and product-development company aimed at expanding, collecting and analysing large amounts of vehicle data to help further improve quality, safety and the driving and ownership experience for Toyota customers.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said: “I believe that, like Toyota, Microsoft aims to enrich society in meaningful ways. Based on the on-going partnership, we aim to further develop our people and enhance our cars through the use of IT in motorsports to promote ‘ever-better cars’.”

Toyota understands the important role that information technology must play in order to further accelerate the development of the automotive industry. Gathering valuable data will help lay the foundation for the future of sustainable mobility. This, in turn, will help create a society in which everyone can live at ease, safely and freely. Another important contributor to a safer automotive future is the Toyota Research Institute1 (TRI), which is focused on artificial intelligence for automobiles, robotics and scientific discovery. TRI is bringing to life Toyota’s vision of autonomous driving, which follows a double approach. The first type of application is ‘Chauffeur Mode’, where the car is fully autonomous. It has the potential to offer mobility to those who would not otherwise have it, such as older people and those with special needs. In order to accomplish this safely, it isestimated that some 14.2 billion kilometres2 of testing, including simulation, are required. Microsoft is an important partner in the test-mile accumulation, since a lot of the work can be done through multi-agent simulation.

The second application of autonomous driving that Toyota is pursuing is the ‘Guardian Mode’ or high-level driver assist. This technology is a further evolution of current safety mechanisms such as Toyota Safety Sense, and is designed to support the driver as necessary, even taking over the car in certain circumstances. The knowledge that they have this safety net, will enable customers to enjoy their drive to the fullest.

The Toyota Research Institute, Toyota Connected and Microsoft are united in their efforts to use cutting edge technology to establish safer, cleaner and more convenient mobility.


The Yaris WRC Test Car that was driven on the Paris Motor Show stage by 4-time WRC champion Tommi Mäkinen didn’t only reveal Microsoft as the technology partner for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC team. In addition to Michelin, who is the team tyre supplier, the car also carried the logos of the DMG MORI and Panasonic Corporation, two companies that relate to Toyota’s vision on motorsports, and that have partnered with Toyota for its 2017 WRC endeavour.


FIA World Rally Championship 2017

September 28, 2016

From 2017 a manufacturer may nominate a minimum of two and maximum of three cars for the purpose of scoring points in the Manufacturer’s Championship. Scores from the two best cars in the final classification will amass points in this Championship. Additional cars may be entered by a manufacturer but will not be eligible to score points in the Manufacturers’ Championship. Only drivers entered by Manufacturers are eligible to drive 2017 World Rally Cars, with the approval of the FIA.

A Privateers’ Cup will be created for competitors entering current World Rally Cars in WRC events, ensuring cars with valid homologations can continue to compete for a title.

As such, the new driver classification system will be as follows:

P1 – drivers of World Rally Cars entered by a manufacturer and approved by the FIA
P2 – drivers entered with older specifications of WRC cars
P3 – drivers entered by a competitor eligible to score points in the WRC2 Championship
The FIA will launch an invitation to tender for the 2017 FIA Junior WRC Championship.

The World Motor Sport Council accepted the composition of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship calendar, with 12 events (some dates still to be confirmed). They are:

20-22 January, Rally Monte Carlo
10-12 February, Rally Sweden
10-12 March, Rally Mexico
7-9 April, Rallye de France
28-30 April, Rally Argentina*
19-21 May, Rally de Portugal
9-11 June, Rally Italia*
Date to be confirmed, Rally Finland
Date to be confirmed, Rally Germany
Date to be confirmed, Rally Spain
Date to be confirmed, Rally Great Britain
Date to be confirmed, Rally Australia

*Subject to formalisation of agreed terms and conditions between WRC Promoter, FIA and the Event Organiser.

The candidates for the 13th or a potential 14th event are Turkey, China and Poland. The final calendar will be presented at the World Motor Sport Council meeting on 30 November, 2016.


New Generation Hyundai i20 R5 set for WRC2 debut

September 7, 2016

Three cars entered for Tour de Corse-Rallye de France

Our New Generation i20 R5 will make its first WRC2 start at Tour de Corse – Rallye de France, which takes place from 29 September-October 2, subject to a timely completion of the homologation process. Three of the brand new machines are set to line up for the event, the tenth round of the WRC season. Among the trio of New Generation i20 R5 cars that will take the ceremonial start in Ajaccio will be entries from the first two customer teams to take delivery from Hyundai Motorsport.

The two crews who will drive the cars show the broad appeal of the R5 class and the New Generation i20 R5. Stéphane Sarrazin and Jacques-Julien Renucci are past winners of the rally, but the weekend will mark their first appearance in the WRC service park this season. The experienced Sarrazin, currently a regular driver in FIA World Endurance Championship and Formula E, captured ninth overall on the event last season, competing in WRC-spec machinery.

Aboard the other customer teams’ New Generation i20 R5 will be Fabio Andolfi and co-driver Manuel Fenoli. Tour de Corse – Rallye de France will be a first start in an R5 for the Italian pairing. They will compete in an entry run by HMI and ACI Team Italia, supported by ACI Sport, the national motorsport body in their home country. Currently in the middle of a second season contesting the WRC3 championship 23-year-old Andolfi lies fourth in the points’ standings, having taken victory on the neighboring island of Sardinia in June.

Corsican Showcase

The third New Generation i20 R5 to take on the ‘Rally of 10,000 Corners’ will be run by Hyundai Motorsport for Kevin Abbring and Seb Marshall. In his role as lead test driver for the team, Kevin has been an integral part of the Customer Racing team throughout the project. The Dutchman has completed almost all of the 5,000km of testing conducted during the seven-month development process. During that time every one of the car’s crucial systems has been optimised in preparation of joining one of the most closely contested categories in world motorsport.

The Customer Racing department will travel to Corsica with two targets. The first will be to prove the pace of the New Generation i20 R5 on the stages against the more established manufacturers in the class. However, the weekend will also show the level of support that customers can expect. The customer teams at the rally will be supported by a dedicated engineer, with further specialist technicians in attendance to make sure that all three cars remain as competitive as possible throughout the event.

Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Michel Nandan said: “With the competitive debut of the New Generation i20 R5 this year’s Tour de Corse – Rallye de France will be the biggest event in the history of Hyundai Motorsport. The foundation of the Customer Racing department was an important expansion for the company, and we will have an unprecedented six Hyundai Motorsport built entries at the start of the rally. For the first time we will compete with a car other than our WRC challenger. In taking on the R5 category and the WRC2 championship we have targeted one of the most competitive areas of modern motorsport. Due to the tight deadlines, which have been a constant part of this project, we are still awaiting final confirmation of the car’s homologation for competition from the FIA. However, with preparations in the workshop well advanced, the New Generation i20 R5 should be ready to compete.”

Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing manager Andrea Adamo explained: “Though we have been testing with the New Generation i20 R5 since January the Tour de Corse – Rallye de France will be the first real test. We have always known that the success of the project depends on how the car performs on the stages compared to the R5-spec machines from other manufacturers. Of course we aim for good results, not only from our own entry, but from each of the cars. For the rally weekend we will have two aims: we enter to prove the performance of the car, but we also want to show the level of support Hyundai Motorsport is capable of delivering to our customers. During the event we will divide our focus between the three teams, with engineers from the Customer Racing department supporting not only Kevin and Seb, but also our customers.”

On Familiar Ground

For Hyundai Motorsport drivers Kevin and Seb their competitive debut in the New Generation i20 R5 will be a third successive start on the Tour de Corse. Last season, driving a Hyundai i20 WRC in the most challenging of conditions, the pair held second overall at the end of the opening day. As well as taking on the testing role for both WRC and Customer Racing teams the pair has already passed several competition milestones this year, scoring their first career WRC stage win and points in Sardinia. At the Ypres Rally in June, the crew showed the strong pace of the car on low-grip tarmac stages, which they will be looking to repeat on the vastly different challenge of the stages in Corsica.

Kevin said: “It will be great to finally drive the New Generation i20 R5 directly against the competition We’ve been testing since January and it’s all been building up to this point, so to be part of the car’s WRC2 debut is a great way for us to celebrate our achievement in reaching this point in the project. We know we have a strong package for tarmac, but Corsica is one of the toughest rallies of the season. While it would obviously be great for me to come away with a strong result, the weekend will be all about the team and the i20 R5.”