Acropolis Rally Greece was an oddity in the 2022 World Rally Championship season. It was the roughest gravel rally of the lot. And what it did to the competitive order surprised everyone – Toyota was nowhere.
Having spent all year being the benchmark – although occasionally trumped by the individual brilliance of Ott Tänak and Sébastien Loeb – suddenly all four GR Yaris Rally1s were struggling.
They’ve bounced back now, of course, with Kalle Rovanperä winning Rally New Zealand and with it becoming world champion for the first time.
When competitive teams lose, they tend not to wallow in self-pity. They get fired up. They’re determined to right the wrong. And according to Tom Fowler, Toyota’s technical director, that’s exactly how the folks in Jyväskylä reacted.
“We actually had a really good preparation for this event as a team because coming out of Acropolis Rally the team was, I would say, disappointed by the result but [with a] huge amount of motivation,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“That was the thing, that really everyone came away knowing like ‘we haven’t done a great job here, we’ve had some difficulties, but there’s no point sitting around trying to explain what happened and making excuses isn’t going to do anything’.
“So we just went back to our test area in Finland where we did our pre-event test for this rally, we had an excellent three days there with all the drivers.
“Just the whole team came together. Obviously we’re close to the base, we put together a really strong engineering team which is difficult to do for foreign events because you need to somehow limit who you take and the vehicles you have and everything.
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“We were able to operate using all of the knowledge of all of our different engineers, so we had all the engineers that represent each of our drivers, we had our development team, we had myself, all working together to really analyze, in the detail, all day what we’re doing and saying ‘are we going really in the right direction?’, and this was really a key.”
Toyota’s pre-Greece test had been, by its usual impeccable standards, a bit of a disaster. Two of the four drivers crashed and damaged their cars, while the weather was utterly abysmal and nothing like the scorching sunshine of the Acropolis that followed.
“We didn’t have all our homework done, there’s no two ways about it,” said Fowler of the test.
“We’d gone to the test, it was absolutely torrential rain, quite cold temperatures for the first day of the test. Obviously when you want to put a hard tire on the car to understand how to set up the hard tire on the car for a rally that’s coming, to have a day that’s completely full of torrential rain is not ideal.
“Then moving forwards we had a couple of accidents as well which meant our test team had to do superhuman work, working all night, all of the next day to repair damaged cars in order to get the car running for other drivers.
“So [it was] really a monumental challenge from our test team to have any kilometers at all, and after we came away from our test we had a lot of blank lines in our notes where we hadn’t been able to complete tests.
“Tests were done on the wrong weather condition or the wrong road condition and so we had to try to piece together some kind of a plan for a rally we had no history with this car. If another team had a really nice week testing in hot sunshine with no accidents and lots of kilometers, it was always going to be difficult.”
A repeat was a non-starter. But mercifully New Zealand was nothing like the gravel rally that preceded it – much softer, kinder gravel roads with inclement weather expected. Toyota threw the kitchen sink at it to avoid a repeat.
It certainly worked – Toyota had gone from its worst result since returning to the WRC in 2017 a few weeks earlier to picking up silverware.
If it gets its pre-Spain test spot on, Toyota could well be picking up more silverware at the next round; the manufacturers’ title is within reach.