How Toyota plans to dominate the 2019 World Rally Championship

Toyota starts 2019 chasing back-to-back World Rally Championship manufacturers' titles for the first time in 25 years. It already has its rivals worried with a raft of developments for this season, as David Evans explains

How Toyota plans to dominate the 2019 World Rally Championship

When Toyota brought a four-wheel drive car to the World Rally Championship for the first time, much was expected of the Japanese giant.

Ultimately, history reflects well on the Celica GT4 courtesy of Carlos Sainz Sr's maiden drivers' title in 1990. But the car codenamed ST165 fell well short of the world-beater Japan expected.

Cooling problems were present from the outset, as were significant transmission issues that worsened the longer the car ran and the hotter the hydraulic fluid became. Turning in to a corner towards the end of a long stage on a hot rally was always something of an adventure in terms of which axle the power would be delivered to.

And then there was the team behind the motor, Ove Andersson's Toyota Team Europe. Few doubted the ability behind TTE's doors, but the team was ill-equipped and short on experience when it came to taking on the might of Lancia across a full season.

Fast forward 30 years and the world's biggest carmaker is back in the thick of the WRC - with a car that suffered overheating issues and transmission concerns. The accusation of being ill-equipped was levelled at Tommi Makinen Racing time and again ahead of launch of the Yaris WRC in 2017.

Andersson moved Toyota forward into the 1990s with the Celica Turbo 4WD and won titles with three drivers (Sainz in 1992, Juha Kankkunen in '93 and Didier Auriol, pictured, in '94) and successive makes' crowns in '93 and '94. Toyota grew into a dominant force with an outstanding roster of drivers, inventive engineers and a spectacular resource from the mothership.

History, it appears, is about to repeat itself.

For Auriol, Kankkunen, Markku Alen and Hannu Mikkola in 1993, read Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke in 2019. Those three all have plenty of experience and massive speed.

WRC 2019 season launches at Autosport International

And, just as the rest of the world feared what Toyota had to bring in the early 1990s, their contemporaries - led by six-time world champion Sebastien Ogier - are apprehensive about the year ahead against the Yaris.

"Ott was strong in the last part of the season, by number I would rate him number one," says Ogier. "Toyota is going to be strong."

Beyond the drivers and a healthy budget, where else will the Yaris WRC's speed come from? Toyota's chief engineer Tom Fowler explains.

Transmission development

This is where homologation jokers will come into play, as Toyota looks to source more traction and driveability from revised front, centre and rear differentials.

"Changing the specification of the transmission is a difficult and long-winded process," says Fowler. "Once you've homologated the original diffs, you have to go through a joker process to change each one. And, if you get that wrong, you have to go through a further joker to rectify it or go back to the old set-up.

"We've been working on the ramps in the diffs since 2017, but now we're more on the internals in the front and centre. This is aimed at improving the driveability of the car and helping with the way we put the torque down onto the road.

"This is aimed more at the gravel events, but it's possible we will be able to learn more from this for asphalt."

Engine's on song

When the Yaris first turned a wheel in competition almost two years ago, rivals immediately noticed the strength of the engine - especially the power output. Engine development is completed by Toyota Motorsport in Cologne and the fruits of those ongoing labours were seen in Finland last season, when TMG delivered an upgrade in time for Tanak to win in Jyvaskyla.

The combination of engine and transmission is where Toyota will score well this year - with improvements to both offering more feedback and confidence to the drivers.

The engine now gives more torque than ever, allowing the drivers to use the motor to pull themselves out of trouble, especially in tricky conditions where grip is compromised.

Toughening up

Plenty was made of Toyota's fragile front end last season, with radiator and engine damage costing it plenty of points. It's these issues boss Tommi Makinen is talking about when he speaks of the need for more consistency.

Despite those problems, when it came to the really tough test - Turkey - Tanak recorded another win. Fowler still admits that Toyota's rough rally pace needs significant attention.

"If you ask me which rally I was most disappointed with last year in terms of performance, I'd have to say Turkey," says Fowler. "OK, we won, but we weren't there in terms of pace.

"Everybody broke their suspension except us - maybe you could say we were quite fortunate that we didn't hit any of the bigger rocks. But look at the first day and we were sixth, without the other cars having problems and some mistakes we might have stayed there.

"We've seen this as a trend last year, in the rougher sections of stages, when we're down to bedrock, then they're tough for us. In Turkey we traded protection for performance and we knew when we started that rally out outright speed wasn't there.

"We've worked hard to pick up traction in the slower, looser sections and that was one of the car's big gains last year - but that's come to the detriment of protection in the suspension, which meant we couldn't carry the speed through the rough places. We need to work on this, we need some time testing on rough gravel - trouble is, there aren't many rallies where you need that.

"It means devoting time to a set-up and car fairly specific to one rally. Generally, rallies are getting easier on the cars, which has meant more of a focus on performance."

The overview

Chassis and suspension development is ongoing, and Toyota and its drivers are known to be far happier with the feel and feedback from the Yaris than they were 12 months ago.

The only visible change to the outside of the car for 2019 is expected to come around the front of the rear wheel arch, which will have a minor aero tweak to help the natural airflow for cooling.

There's a feeling the car could still shed some weight, but otherwise it's getting close to the optimum current specification World Rally Car.

Toyota's other strength is undoubtedly the backing from the parent manufacturer in Japan. Toyota chairman and CEO Akio Toyoda is a personal supporter of Makinen's work and is regularly seen on events cheering on the Yaris WRCs. That support is reflected in the budget, with Toyota the best-resourced squad in the service park.

The 2019 World Rally Championship season launches at Autosport International this Saturday - buy tickets here

shares
comments
Hyundai splits with its World Rally team boss Nandan for 2019

Previous article

Hyundai splits with its World Rally team boss Nandan for 2019

Next article

Sebastien Ogier doesn't want team orders at Citroen in 2019 WRC

Sebastien Ogier doesn't want team orders at Citroen in 2019 WRC
Load comments
Remembering Colin McRae’s final WRC win Plus

Remembering Colin McRae’s final WRC win

The Safari Rally returns to the World Rally Championship this weekend for the first time since 2002 - when crowd favourite Colin McRae set aside the maximum attack style for which he was renowned to deliver a textbook third win

WRC
Jun 23, 2021
How Hyundai's broken record gave Toyota a special Sardinia 1-2 Plus

How Hyundai's broken record gave Toyota a special Sardinia 1-2

For the second WRC gravel rally in a row, a promising Friday for Hyundai turned into desolation as Toyota gratefully picked up the pieces. This time it was championship leader Sebastien Ogier who took full advantage after Ott Tanak and Dani Sordo retired to score a memorable victory, having swept the road on the first two days

WRC
Jun 7, 2021
How Hyundai's latest self-destruction handed Evans Portugal victory Plus

How Hyundai's latest self-destruction handed Evans Portugal victory

At one point Hyundai held the top three positions in Portugal, but when trouble struck the Korean marque's two leading chargers, a grateful Elfyn Evans was on hand to see off Hyundai third man Dani Sordo and become the third different winner in four rallies

WRC
May 24, 2021
Why the success of AVB's WRC debut won't be defined on the stages Plus

Why the success of AVB's WRC debut won't be defined on the stages

Three years after a Dakar Rally crash resulted in him being airlifted to hospital, Andre Villas-Boas is preparing to make his debut on his home round of the World Rally Championship later this month. His goals for the event are modest, but the same cannot be said for the charities he plans to promote where his true impact could be felt

WRC
May 13, 2021
Why there's no easy fix for Hyundai's operational Achilles Heel Plus

Why there's no easy fix for Hyundai's operational Achilles Heel

Hyundai Motorsport boss Andrea Adamo was vocal in his criticism of his team's tyre choices on Rally Croatia and declared that he "had better move my ass and solve it". Doing so will be vital to getting Hyundai's 2021 WRC title hopes back on track, but finding the root of the problem won't be the work of a moment

WRC
Apr 28, 2021
How Ogier held on after a shock bump in the road to triumph in Croatia Plus

How Ogier held on after a shock bump in the road to triumph in Croatia

Sebastien Ogier was already in an incredibly tight fight at Rally Croatia before a surprise collision with public road traffic at the start of the final day. But the defending champion held his nerve to take a narrow victory and create further World Rally Championship history

WRC
Apr 26, 2021
Why the casualty of rallying's evolution should still be cherished Plus

Why the casualty of rallying's evolution should still be cherished

The WRC's support categories are in a process of streamlining that will spell the end of a formalised 2WD world championship-level category. While its relevance to the top level has been questioned for some time, that doesn't mean it should be swept quietly under the carpet

WRC
Apr 5, 2021
Why WRC's hybrid path could leave it at a crossroads Plus

Why WRC's hybrid path could leave it at a crossroads

With all three major manufacturers committing to the World Rally Championship’s hybrid era from 2022, the future of the series is assured for now, but it could lead to trickier twists and turns further down the road

WRC
Apr 1, 2021