It’s with some trepidation that Toyota folk will step aboard the plane bound for Rally México later this week. Understandably. Rough gravel and the GR Yaris Rally1 haven’t really mixed.
Granted, the Safari was a Toyota benefit with a 1-2-3 for the Jyväskylä-built machines, but the Kenyan event has evolved from rocky, rough car-breaker it once was.
Now, if it’s a proper gravel workout you want, you go to Sardina, Greece and México. Last year, there wasn’t a Yaris to be seen on the podium on the Italian island or in Lamia.
And México hasn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Yaris. It took four years for Toyota to conquer the season’s highest altitude challenge. And, don’t forget, Sébastien Ogier’s 2020 success came on a rally COVID cut short by a day.
Toyota’s technical director Tom Fowler has never been one to shy away from facing up to issues. After Rally Japan last year, he was entirely frank with his appraisal of rough gravel aboard a Yaris.
“We’ve had some really good rallies during this year but we’ve also had some nightmares,” he said.
“I mean Greece is an example – we didn’t have a good Greece, we didn’t have a good Greece test, so at the moment this kind of hard tire-dominated, hard surface rally is not our strongest point at the moment.
“We’re looking at that a lot because we want to work on the weaknesses. We’re putting together some developments based on that.”
Those developments were tested by the team in Spain last week. And good news. Defending world champion Kalle Rovanperä is a fan.
“Yeah, I think the guys have been working hard on this kind of gravel,” he said.
“We were not on the pace before on this kind of rough gravel conditions and everybody has been doing a lot of work to improve the car and it has been nice to see today already that the car is definitely better on this kind of condition.
“So yeah, we are still working hard today to find all the things we can, but definitely we are going in the right direction.”
Happy days then.
Not so fast.
Rough gravel is, indeed, rough gravel. But the big difference in Spain last week was the temperature. With an ambient potentially 30 degrees down – and difference on the road likely to be even greater – on what the cars will face in Guanajuato, the car’s relationship with Pirelli’s hardest compound Scorpion has yet to be explored fully.
El Chocolate, a week Friday morning, will be the real proving ground.