Toyota changed its test plan last week in an effort to find more pace for this week’s Rally Italy in Sardinia.
While Elfyn Evans won last time out in Portugal, the Finnish-based squad was outperformed in terms of speed by rival manufacturer Hyundai Motorsport and sometimes M-Sport Ford too. Following that performance, a revised test plan was put in place for last week’s running in Spain.
Initially, last week’s work with the Yaris WRC was to be focused on roads which replicated Safari Rally Kenya stages. Instead, more Sardinian-style roads were forced into action as the team geared its running time towards this week rather than the WRC’s return to Africa coming later this month.
Talking about the team’s Portugal performance, Toyota’s technical director Tom Fowler told DirtFish running order was only part of the problem, with Sébastien Ogier opening the road.
For much of day one, Hyundai locked out the top three, with Thierry Neuville running second to Dani Sordo before crashing out. On that day, the Belgian had only been one place behind Ogier on the road.
“It’s a combination of disappointing and frightening that [Thierry] Neuville was able to do those stage times with that road positions; second on the road, he was outperforming our cars relative to the positions on the road,” said Fowler.
“We were struggling [in] areas where we had an idea, before the event, that we weren’t perfect, but hoped to be better than we were.”
Ahead of round four, Toyota had elected to run a joint Portugal-Sardinia test in Portugal. Those plans were undone when rain hit their running, leaving the Yaris WRC drivers with little time to acclimatise to Pirelli’s hard tire ahead of the season’s first gravel event.
“A hard tire on the wet test didn’t help, but actually we can’t put it all on that,” admitted Fowler.
“We were struggling regardless of which tire we had. It was a little bit better in the afternoon, but I wouldn’t say this was a tire thing.”
We did look for the miracle, but I think I can say we didn’t find one, but we have found some tweaks. In a test which was adapted at the last moment, we were never going to find that miracle.Tom Fowler
Talking about last week’s rearranged test, Fowler added: “Originally it was a Safari test, but we had a back-up plan with the test roads – we had some Sardinia-type roads available in the local area so we did change our test plan, it became a 50:50 or maybe even a 70:30 test for Sardinia after some of the difficulties we’d had in Portugal.
“There’s not so much we could do between the two rallies – we’re not going to find a miracle. We did look for the miracle, but I think I can say we didn’t find one, but we have found some tweaks. In a test which was adapted at the last moment [to Sardinia], we were never going to find that miracle.”
Without a miracle, Toyota is looking at damage limitation in Olbia this week. Landing into the Italian island, Toyota is 37 points ahead of Hyundai, whose lead driver is 22 points behind drivers’ series leader Ogier.
“Our strategy is to stay calm,” said Fowler. “The results at the beginning of the season have put us in a strong position. Even if we had the fastest car compared to Hyundai going into the next round – which I’m not saying we don’t – it’s a different rally in terms of surface and we’ve found some things.
“It’s difficult to say are we going to be there in terms of pure pace against Hyundai, [especially] when we still have the road cleaning thing. With Séb and Elfyn one-two on the road, we have the worst positions on the worst rally of the season for cleaning.
“We go there looking to match them on pace and with that strategy, but we are also looking to limit the damage, get to the finish and take the points.”