Finnish rally legend Tommi Mäkinen, a winner of four World Rally Championship titles during the 1990s, will serve as team principal for the Toyota WRC team, which is set to start throwing gravel come 2017. The team will be competing under the newly established Toyota Gazoo Racing banner, and Toyota scion Akio Toyoda, an avid motorsports fan, will serve as its chairman.
It was back in January that Toyota confirmed it will return to WRC for the first time since exiting the sport back in 1999. That year, Mäkinen was driving for rival Japanese automaker Mitsubishi and ended up winning his fourth-consecutive WRC title behind the wheel of the impressive Lancer Evolution.
He won’t be piloting Toyota’s entry for the 2017 WRC, a new car based on the Yaris subcompact, but no doubt he will be helping out during the development. Mäkinen, who’s been linked with Toyota since 2013, and has already helped develop an all-wheel-drive GT 86 (the FR-S’s Toyota twin) in which to familiarize Toyoda on the ins and outs of rallying.
“I first met Tommi in 2013,” Toyoda said at this week’s announcement. “At that time he was my instructor, helping me improve my driving technique, but in the end, he taught me a lot more; he showed me the appeal of rallying and the relationship between vehicle development and rallying.”
Toyoda went on to explain that rallying requires driving on the different types of roads his company’s customers use daily, and that it is the perfect avenue to help build better cars. He said “it is the road that makes the car,” and that for Toyota to make better cars it will have to “get a feel for all the kinds of roads” that are out there. This is why, he believes, a return to WRC was necessary.
The Japanese automaker is expected to field a two-car lineup in 2017. For the drivers, Toyota will run a driver development program for up-and-coming drivers. The first to be enrolled in the program is 27-year-old French driver Eric Camilli. Also helping with the development and testing are Sebastian Lindholm and Toyota World Endurance Championship driver Stéphane Sarrazin.
Rival manufacturers competing in WRC include Volkswagen, which is currently dominating the sport, as well as Hyundai and previous dominant force Citroën. Toyota will certainly have its work cut out for it over the next couple of years.