Toyota technical director Tom Fowler believes opening up the use of the team’s new GR Yaris Rally2 to customers is an “important” step to support its top tier World Rally Championship program.
Plans to build a car for either WRC2 or WRC3 were first announced at the backend of 2020, with the GR Yaris Rally2 making its first public appearance courtesy of four-time world champion Juha Kankkunen on the stages of last month’s Rally Japan.
It followed a similar development and public display of the hydrogen powered GR Yaris H2 which fellow quadruple champion and former Toyota team boss Tommi Mäkinen drove, and Kankkunen piloted himself on the Ypres Rally.
Toyota has arrived at the Rally2 development party relatively late compared to its Rally1 rivals Hyundai and Ford, which have significantly more experience of the category via their i20 N and Fiesta Rally2 machines respectively.
Despite this, Fowler believes that the GR Yaris Rally2 is a vital element in the team’s future and that customer usage of the car will invariably help the Rally1 project flourish.
“I think there’s multiple layers to its importance,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“Firstly, it’s important from a business point of view – we’re known so far for producing very limited runs of cars for professional drivers.
“And we’ve done quite well at that but it’s a different game to producing cars for customers around the world and we need to grow as a business to be able to support the main team as well with a strong business background as well.
“The target is that more people can enjoy what we have created in terms of performance driving rally cars. At the moment only four people in the world get to experience what Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC team is doing.
“As you’ve seen from Akio [Toyoda, president of Toyota] he’s completely keen on everyone who wants to enjoying driving as much as possible, for whatever reason that makes them happy, not just winning world championships but winning maybe your local rally or regional championship, or just on a Sunday for fun.”
Key to making sure the GR Yaris is a success lies in the development of the car itself. The team has stayed true to its modus operandi from the early days of its return to the WRC’s top table.
“Easy to drive has actually always been part of our program since the start,” explained Fowler when asked about the drivability of the Rally2 car.
“I think we talked about this already with the ’17 car – a rally car has to be something which is suitable for many conditions and in a Rally2 car it’s even more important because it’s suitable for many drivers as well.
“You can’t build a car that only three people in the world can physically drive, so it’s obviously high on the list.
“[We’re] really relieved to have it, it was a big push from the team to get the car ready, particularly in the situation we have in the world at the moment coming across materials and parts is not the simplest situation.
“It’s a really difficult time to do this sort of project.”
For now, the GR Yaris Rally2 is officially being referred to as a ‘concept’ car with no formal announcement that it will go into production.
But really it will be ready for competition in 2024, predictably with a rather long list of orders.