There have been 23 World Rally Championship rallies since the Rally1 hybrid era was ushered in at the start of 2022.
Toyota has won 15 of them. Or to put it a more remarkable way: 65%.
It therefore wouldn’t be a stretch to label Toyota the current benchmark in the WRC.
But if you’re standing still in motorsport, you’re basically moving backwards. Why win the majority of the rallies when instead you can try and win all of the rallies?
This ethos courses through the veins of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s WRC headquarters in Jyväskylä.
Identifying, and addressing, the weak points from its strong debut campaign in 2022 has therefore been a key focus for technical director Tom Fowler and his team of engineers this term.
And we saw it in Estonia back in July, where Toyota’s engine upgrade was effectively introduced as a response to Ott Tänak’s win in Finland the previous year.
The story continued on last week’s Acropolis Rally Greece, where Toyota went from a dismal event with its lead car finishing sixth and six minutes off the lead to locking out the top two spots on the podium in the space of just 12 months.
What can we put that down to?
“I mean we’ve talked about it a lot but for sure it’s a continuation of the work that we did specifically at the end of ’22 to address our weaknesses. I would say it’s another step again,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“I don’t think it’s just the improvements that we saw in México and Sardinia, I think it’s a bit more than that.”
Toyota made strong progress on the suspension side before México in March to improve its car’s performance on hard-surface rallies – which worked well. So what else has contributed to the upturn in pace?
“I think we’ve understood a few things recently about the way to do pre-event testing in this new regulation, that you’re so limited on time you need to change a bit your preparation and a bit your expectation to make sure that you get the work done,” Fowler revealed.
To briefly cut across him and provide some context: this year WRC testing was slimmed to just 21 days total, whereas before it was one test day per Rally1 car for all European events.
Back to you Tom: “So for sure our test and development guys have put a lot of effort into not only what to test but how to do it and how to do it efficiently and I think that’s helping us at the moment.”
But what does that actually translate into? What is Toyota doing differently on its pre-event tests?
“There’s a few things, some of which of course we’d rather not say but I think the obvious one is that in the past there’s always been the situation that testing is somehow, reliability wise, less important than rally because if something goes wrong it doesn’t really matter,” Fowler said.
“But nowadays it’s not really the case. If you lose half a day of testing it’s a really big deal.
“OK the importance of each minute of a test has been gradually increasing over the past years if you go back to pre-test limitation, of course if something went wrong on one day you could just stay another day or go back another week or whatever it might be.
“But nowadays it’s fully limited in the FIA regulations, so if you waste half a day that’s a big percentage of your possible development gone.
“It’s more a case of planning your changes, planning your parts and making sure that you do everything efficiently.”
The proof was in the pudding, as rally winner Kalle Rovanperä testified.
Asked how much better the Toyota was in Greece than 12 months ago, the world champion told DirtFish: “Quite a lot.
“Last year we really struggled from start to finish, and now this year we – even from the first car – we could still give a bit of fight to the others.
“I think overall on this kind of dry and rough gravel, we just have a lot more traction,” he added.
“Which was our biggest issue before, like traction and grip.
“We are definitely much better now, and you can drive normal driving with a good pace.”
So are now at a point where this car can’t get any faster on rough gravel?
“No I don’t think so,” Fowler replied.
“I think we’ve still got some work to do. We need to take into account we’ve still got three more full seasons of this regulation left to go so we’re not even at the halfway point, yet.
“And also just looking at what’s happened here, we can already see that it’s not been completely clear-cut.
“I think we had good speed on average and overall but still there were times where we lost time to other cars, so we need to have a look why that was and work on it.”