Understandably, a lot of people wanted to get hold of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s World Rally Championship team boss Tommi Mäkinen following the announcement that he will leave his role at the end of 2020.
DirtFish’s David Evans spoke at length with the four-time world champion driver, whose start-up Tommi Mäkinen Racing (TMR) operation has won two titles in the last two years with Toyota and leads the way heading into the final two rallies of the season…
David Evans: First, I want to say I am very sad with today’s news, because I feel your place is still to run this team and to be in charge of the team.
Tommi Mäkinen: First off, we are all very happy [at TMR]. Of course we are not leaving it [the WRC] completely, we will follow and we will be there, but not directly in the daily operation and I am very happy for that decision. And I have a bit more freedom now, no need to always be here and there. So a little bit less travelling, and I think also we are very confident, our team at the moment is very, very strong. And it’s a very good feeling with everybody.
Thanks also to our professional drivers, they are making the feeling that people enjoy working [here] and that’s the way to get the best out from all of them. It’s a very, very good set-up at the moment.
I’m very happy to follow, and of course we have followed closely, how they are going forward and what they are doing. I’m sure that Toyota Motor Corporation [TMC] will take care of all people in employment, and they want to keep it identical to what it is at the moment: an operation in Finland, and an operation in Estonia, will remain and will stay identical.
I understood clearly TGR in Finland and TGR in Estonia are separate companies. All our data and all of our tools, equipment, is all directly under the Toyota [brand], and they basically build up the whole infrastructure identical and it gives quite a lot of branches for TMC to follow the processes and things.
Because at the moment we have had a lighter and different tools and equipment for controlling the systems and everything. And then at least everything goes under the same one system [in the future], and it makes it easier to follow. I understand totally, because TMC is always keen to know exactly what is going on and what we are doing and what kind of development there is in different areas. Now this makes it far easier for them to control it and maybe even more people from Japan [can come in].
We have had quite a big number of Japanese all the time during our project, and now it is maybe even more because they want to teach the people, have an education program, and they can teach these strategies.
They are moving people to the new roles and new positions in many areas. That is their culture. And I think they can now do it even more and easier, all this.
DE: Does this mean that you will still be involved in the WRC? Will we see you on rounds?
TM: TMC per se is our World Rally Championship operation, or whatever.
But TMR will stay with me, TMR will remain and continue contracted directly with TMC. It’s going to work in motorsport and some other areas. There might be quite a lot of decent topics, but more or less I’m working directly with TMC and Akio [Toyoda, TMC president]. And then of course one important area is also to follow the WRC, how this team is [doing] – because I’m sure that we’ll still keep going, but we take a little bit more, let’s say, altitude.
DE: You’ve said before you want to take a backseat and go back to farming. Was this always in your plan that you would work for the five years from 2016 to now, to get the car ready, and then take a back seat?
TM: Haha. No, I don’t know, there was no typical plan. But of course I’m happy for this situation; I don’t need to travel so much and be in so many places. I’m very happy for that.
I hope I can find time for some new challenges and new ideas and enjoy my life a bit more.
DE: In motorsport, it’s possible that TMR could still develop cars. Could you do some other things, or does it have to be constantly linked to Toyota?
TM: No, at the moment there is no plan. We haven’t done any [planning]. We never know what is coming in the future, but of course it’s clear I’ll continue working with TMC.
DE: What has been the highlight as team principal?
TM: I think of course the first win [is up there], but I think one of the first bigger things was when we took the cars for the first time down to the Monte Carlo Rally, 2017. Then before that, the first time running the very, very first version of the rally car. This [car]. Well, of course after that all wins and everything. But of course first things are always first.
DE: You were the first person ever to drive the Yaris World Rally Car. That must have been a very special moment, driving your own car?
TM: Yes. That’s true, and we still have this first one. First in the car, and still there.
DE: You have a great personal relationship with Akio Toyoda. Are you looking forward to working again closer with him, maybe?
TM: Very much, very much. I like to work with the Japanese people. I’m used to working for with Japanese people my whole life, and I like very much to see their [plans] and have more time to discuss together. Because now it’s getting really busy and there is no time, and we have just done our work and keep pushing flat-out forward. Now there is significantly more time for looking at different [things].
DE: Anything you will miss about being a team principal? I guess winning, like with Elfyn Evans this last Sunday.
TM: Yeah. Of course, this is the other hand. If I’m looking at the overall picture now, we’ve built such a good and strong team, and of course it is a little bit of a sad feeling to leave it. Of course we’re not completely leaving, and we keep following and keep living with them at all moments and everything. I think it’s a very, very ideal situation.
DE: For the rest of 2020, the focus is on Rally Italy and winning the two titles?
TM: Yeah, sure. We are putting in maximum effort for the rest of the season. I think this [departure] is not disturbing at all, I know that other people are very, very motivated will keep doing their best, and the drivers as well. I spoke with all of them and they are very, very motivated.
DE: It’s difficult, because the drivers need to understand that everything will continue. Elfyn and Kalle Rovanperä have a deal for next year, and they need to know everything stays the same really, don’t they?
TM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But there is no big changes with any of them. Elfyn and Kalle will continue anyway next year, and they are preparing Séb [Ogier]’s contract as well for one more year, so it’s looking like no big dramas.
DE: For you to leave the team principal role, it would be fantastic to see you win both championships. It would be what you deserve. You’ve put so much work in, and it would be a great way to sign off.
TM: Thank you. That is what we’ve tried to do, but of course it’s a big battle, and Hyundai has found more speed in different conditions, like we could see in Estonia. It’s more equal, it’s very interesting.