TOYOTA is expected to announce its long-rumoured return to the World Rally Championship after an absence of almost two decades.
Confirmation is expected this week, following an official Toyota press release inviting the media to a motorsport conference that will be webcast live (with English translation) from 3pm this Friday (January 30).
Toyota’s re-entry into the WRC sets up a fierce contest against current champion Volkswagen and the rapidly improving Hyundai.
The company has been discussing a return to the sport with the FIA and has been testing a Toyota Yaris WRC car since March 2014.
Toyota is a three-time WRC winner, with its participation dating back to the 1970s, starting when Swede Ove Andersson drove a rear-wheel drive Toyota Celica in the 1972 RAC Rally in Britain.
Andersson established Toyota Team Europe in 1975, with Hannu Mikkola claiming its first win that year in a Corolla.
It won the gruelling Safari rally three years in a row (1984-86) before TTE was bought by Toyota in 1990 to become Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG).
Toyota’s peak period in rallying began in 1990, when legendary Spaniard Carlos Sainz won the drivers’ title driving the Celica GT-Four (ST165 model), before flying Finn Juha Kankkunen took the title and helped Toyota claim its first manufacturers’ crown in 1993. Didier Auriol won the crown in 1994 as Toyota scored back-to-back manufacturers’ championships.
However, it was in 1994 that Toyota was embroiled in controversy when it was found to have made illegal modifications to the 34mm turbo restrictors fitted to its Celicas. It was subsequently banned for a year.
Toyota returned to the sport and won the manufacturers’ crown again in 1999 with the Corolla; its last victory was the 1999 Rally of China, with 1994 champion Auriol at the wheel.
This week’s press conference invitation came less than 24 hours after the Japanese giant – the world’s Number One carmaker by sales volume (not profit) – confirmed the technical specs of the GT86 CS-R3 as a customer-based production rally car for the European market.
Built by TMG, the stripped, caged and FIA-homologated cars feature an extra 30kW over the standard 2.0-litre flat-four road car’s 205kW and come with a six-speed sequential transmission.
Toyota Australia says it’s unlikely any of the rally-prepped GT86s will make it to Australia.
“It’s possible,” a Toyota spokesperson told Wheels. “We’re delighted that TMG has chosen the 86 as a base, [and] looking at the price and distance, we’ll follow their progress in Europe, but there are no plans to bring the car here.”
Watch the Toyota announcement at 3pm on Friday, January 30 here.