TOYOTA has confirmed that it will contest the World Rally Championship in 2017. The Japanese maker confirmed its return to the sport in a press conference in Tokyo, and has confirmed that it will use the Toyota Yaris WRC car that has been in development since March last year by Toyota Motorsport, based in Cologne, Germany.
Toyota is the third manufacturer in the last four years to sign up to the WRC after current champions, Volkswagen, entered the Polo in 2012, followed by Hyundai the following year. They join Citroen, who had dominated the series ahead of VW's arrival thanks to nine-time title winner, Sebastien Loeb. Ford had officially pulled out of rallying at the end of the 2012 season after decades in the sport, its long-standing entry earning it the description as the Ferrari of the sport.
Toyota will continue to run its WEC sports car campaign at the same time as it tackles the WRC. "To run two works motorsport programs simultaneously is of course a challenge but we believe we have the expertise and determination to succeed," said Team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita. "There is much to do as we make the journey back to WRC but to have received the support of Toyota Motor Corporation and our President Akio Toyoda is already very encouraging," he said.
While its competition car has been confirmed as the Yaris (pictured), Toyota is yet to announce its driver line-up for its assault on the title, which it has won three times (1993, '94 and '99). Its previous drivers have been of the highest calibre, including Bjorn Waldegard in the '80s as well as Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol - all world rally champions with the brand.
"We are looking forward to taking the next steps with an extensive development plan and a junior driver development program. It is an exciting time and we are looking forward to this new challenge with great anticipation," Kinoshita said.
The announcement is welcome news for the World Rally Championship, which has struggled to for relevance as it attempts to emulate the heights of its past, from the 1980s Group B machines to the cult of Colin McRae and the Subaru Impreza WRX in the '90s.