The summer in Finland is always about one thing: Neste Rally, or for the people who remember, 1000 Lakes Rally. It is such an important event for this country, one of the biggest sporting occasions for all Finland.
AUG 08th 2016
Mystery Monday: Tommi Mäkinen – I can’t wait to bring Toyota back to the WRC in 2017
But this year, I hardly noticed it was coming. Everybody at Toyota Gazoo Racing is busy getting ready for Monte Carlo Rally next year, when we will be competing with the Yaris WRC for the first time, so the rally world coming to Finland was a nice chance to catch up with friends and our future rivals.
It is a big honour for me to be leading Toyota’s return to the World Rally Championship. Toyota is really one of our sport’s giants. We can all remember the incredible times when Ove Andersson was making cars for guys like Juha Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz.
In 1990, I finished 1,000 Lakes for the first time and I won Group N driving a Mitsubishi Galant. Carlos won the event overall driving a Celica. I remember looking at the car and at the whole Toyota team and thinking how incredible to work with a manufacturer like that.
And now I am in this position to be bringing Toyota back. Fantastic.
For sure, people are asking me a lot about the challenge of running the team compared with driving. They are totally different jobs. When you are the driver, you are very focused on what you are doing, nothing else so much – just yourself and your own rally. Now I am looking at everything: testing, car build, regulations, everything.
We have been testing the Yaris for a long time now and we completed around 6,000km (3,600 miles) with three different cars running at the same time in different places in the world. I did some of the driving myself and I must admit, the car feels really excellent. The speed is more than I remember when I was competing, but the biggest change is in the suspension. Now we can fly forever, the car lands and keeps going. Before, if we fly like this, for sure we are going to the trees a little bit.
Bringing a team to the World Rally Championship – OK, Toyota is coming back, but the team is new from when Toyota was there the last time – at the moment is a very good time. The FIA has made completely new, really good regulations for next season. The World Rally Cars will be wider, more aggressive, more powerful and with more aerodynamics. Really, the rules change completely for 2017 and everybody is starting with the blank sheet of paper. That’s what we have done.
This is good for Toyota; everything we do, everything we make on our new car is designed and made just for the world championship next year. We are not having any old parts from an old car, nothing.
Because we had no [current] car – and the Corolla WRC was definitely too far back in history – we had to make a test car very quickly. This is one of the things I feel Toyota Gazoo Racing did so well and efficiently. We made our test Yaris in a really short time and this has allowed us to get the car running and begin testing.
Like everybody in our sport, I remember a lot the times of Group B and I remember how much passion people around the world had for the sport at this time. I think we will be coming back to that a little bit next year.
The cars will look and sound more like Group B than ever before, so the fans standing at the side of the road will have a fantastic time when they are come to watch the rallies. And the television coverage and social media is also coming really strong.
We are bringing Toyota back to the sport of rallying at exactly the right time – the sport has woken up from its sleeping and it’s now looking very strong again.
Everybody was asking me [at Neste Rally Finland] in Jyvaskyla who would be driving the car – some were asking if I would be making a return behind the wheel.
Maybe I should tell you an exclusive and say I am… I’m joking, of course!
The drivers for Toyota next year we are still deciding on. We will know soon, but this is the decision which is taken after a lot of discussion with Japan. We have to decide what we are doing and what we want from the programme next year and in the future?
We have to use the 2017 season to analyse the car and to find out where we are for the competition; sure a podium would be nice, but I think the main effort has to be in 2018, when we have to be looking to start winning some rallies.
For this, maybe the idea can be to think to some of the younger drivers. There are guys like Elfyn [Evans], Esapekka Lappi, Teemu Suninen and the young coming driver Pontus [Tidemand]. At the same time, there are the current drivers we look at, but these are not so many – Thierry Neuville is the guy in a position to talk about a contract.
We will decide soon. But for now, there is definitely plenty for us all in Puuppola to be busy with as we get ready for the car to be launched in time for January next year.
I have some fantastic memories from Monte Carlo; I hope next year will be just as nice for me as my four wins as a driver there.
Tommi Mäkinen was talking to David Evans, photography coutesy of LAT and WRC
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