In one of the craziest seasons in the history of the World Rally Championship, it’s almost fitting that Toyota Gazoo Racing develops what was shaping up to be the fastest rally car in rallying’s fastest ever generation. And then cans it.
But that’s what’s happened. Instead of running three very different Yaris-based Rally1 specification cars in the space of three years, TGR will shelve the GR Yaris WRC and focus on pulling one more year out of the 2017 vintage.
Here’s how it happened.
Juho Hänninen starts testing Toyota Gazoo Racing’s all-new GR Yaris WRC in Finland. The car has been given a brief shakedown close to the Puuppola factory, but this is the first time the all-new car’s been put through its paces.
It’s running during downtime at the three-day pre-Rally Sweden event test. While Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä are all interested onlookers, only Hänninen drives the car.
And this is a very new car for TGR. Based not only on the new Yaris road car, this one’s actually based on the limited production run GR Yaris homologation special, which means it arrives in the TGR factory in wider, four-wheel drive form – putting what some might see as unnecessary colour on what would have been a blank sheet of paper.
The first sight of the car revealed a variety of bodywork changes. At the front of the car, there’s a smaller air intake and changes to dive planes at the front, along with a lip on the outer edge of the front arch. These, along with the repositioning of the air exit vents closer to the outer edge of the bonnet, are an effort to rework airflow at the front of the car.
The GR Yaris WRC runs outside Finland for the first time as Hänninen joins another pre-event test – this time pre-Rally México – in southern Spain. And this is where the car’s early potential is realised.
Talking about the car later, TGR technical director Tom Fowler admits his team were onto something very, very useful.
He said: “We went through a very quick process in the beginning. Our very first tests were in Finland following the Sweden tests – this was really just a shakedown kind of situation. We were just making sure everything worked. We did a little bit of a snow performance test, just changing a few things up and down to get close to a set-up for Sweden, that all went fine.
“We then went to follow the México test in Spain. Kilometers were a little bit limited, but we ended the week [in Spain] doing performance runs and we had the ’17 car there and were confident the new car was getting to a level where it was, let’s say, rally-able in terms of performance, so we started doing some back-to-backs with the current car. We had some very positive results in the back-to-back. Short summary would be that it’s not quite there yet, but it’s very close.”
There are reports the GR Yaris WRC is in action again in Finland, but any specific testing is difficult with a long winter leaving too much snow and ice around to make for meaningful running that might help with settings for Finland’s Jyväskylä-based WRC counter.
The FIA announces a temporary testing ban which prohibits the manufacturer teams from running their cars – even at their permanent test sites. Toyota discusses the matter with the FIA, pointing out that they’re not asking to test their current car, but the 2021 version.
The FIA says no. Yves Matton outlines the thinking behind the decision which will keep the GR Yaris WRC (and all other factory Toyotas) quiet until the end of May, saying: “The interest of the championship is that nobody can take advantage on the other in this crisis period.”
Sources indicate there’s no immediate hurry to start testing the 2021 car once the testing ban finishes, sparking speculation that the car might have been canned. Fowler points out that, with the three drivers all new to the team and the Yaris WRC, their testing time is better spent reacclimatizing themselves with the current car.
DirtFish breaks news that Toyota has scrapped the GR Yaris WRC.
TGR confirms it will focus its efforts on the 2017 car, stating on social media: “Our plan is to continue improving the current Yaris – and compete with it in 2021 as well “Before the COVID-19 outbreak, we collected a lot of valuable information from the tests when we were developing the GR Yaris and the WRC version. Now we will take this know-how and use it to design a car for the 2022 regulations.”