If Toyota had a weakness in 2022, it was demanding, hard-tire dominated gravel rallies.
In a season where it waltzed to another drivers’ and manufacturers’ title double, there were just two events where the final podiums were Yaris-less.
Rally Italy Sardinia, and Acropolis Rally Greece.
Coincidence? Not really.
The Toyota wasn’t at its happiest when the going got rough and tough. As Toyota technical director Tom Fowler described it late last year: “We’ve had some really good rallies during this year but we’ve also had some nightmares.”
But Fowler did what all engineers do. He figured out a solution.
Rally México earlier this year was an indication that that work had paid off.
A Sébastien Ogier win, coupled with Elfyn Evans falling a whisker short of second place, meant the weekend belonged to Toyota.
But, according to Esapekka Lappi, the recent Rally of Portugal was the ultimate proof that Toyota has made a big leap forward.
Lappi, now of Hyundai after piloting a Yaris for half the rallies last season, told DirtFish: “I think we should generally develop the car because at the moment we are behind Toyota it seems.
“It was opposite last year on this kind of surface and conditions, but now they’ve done a big step forward and we need to try and find some performance for next rounds.”
Team principal Cyril Abiteboul agrees, having seen the leading Hyundai lose almost a minute to the rally-winning Toyota last time out.
“The car is there, it depends against who you compare,” he said.
“Obviously Kalle [Rovanperä] is an excellent driver, he’s very quick here. But you know, frankly, I see that big minute before today [Sunday] happened.
“Clearly, by yesterday evening he was one minute ahead and there was absolutely no way we would have been able to reduce that gap.
“To me it’s too big of a gap to be satisfied.
“So we need to see how we can get something like two tenths, three tenths per kilometer on this car – which is not an easy job. The car is a solid all-round car, but we’d like to make it one more step.
“We’ve got some ideas; it’s about the execution of those ideas now that we need to accelerate.”