Toyota has laid down further foundations for its highly anticipated return to the World Rally Championship in 2017, with team principal Tommi Makinen hinting at a possible three car attack.
Makinen, a four-time WRC champion, has confirmed the Toyota Gazoo Racing squad will remain at its Finland base in Puppola, which is close to the location for Rally Finland, in 2016 with key support coming from the Toyota Motorsport factory in Cologne. The team is expected to begin building its new Yaris World Rally Car over the winter with an extensive testing schedule set up over the next 12 months.
The Finn has not yet confirmed whether the team will then move to Germany ahead of its return to WRC in 2017 after a 17-year absence but has hinted at a possible three car line-up similar to the set-up used by Volkswagen and Hyundai, who enter two cars to score manufacturer championship points and a third in a second string team.
"We are in discussions with various drivers for 2017, bearing in mind that we hope to enter at least two, if not three, vehicles into the championship," Mäkinen told wrc.com
Makinen, who was brought in to head the new Toyota project over the summer, is relishing the prospect of getting a hands-on role to develop a new WRC challenger.
"Right now, we are in the process of designing the car,” he confirmed. “Our team of engineers and designers, along with our suppliers, have worked tirelessly to meet the schedule and develop a car that could be a winner.
"Testing is due to start during spring 2016. An extensive schedule has already been drawn up in order to hold tests in Finland and around the world.”
Makinen has been through a thorough process of getting the best technical and management team he can secure to ensure the team has the experience and personnel to begin the arduous task of putting together a WRC challenger in 2016 and within the new regulations set to be implanted in 2017.
Jarmo Lehtinen, former co-driver to Mikko Hirvonen, has been brought on as sporting director and Lauri Riipinen, who worked with Mäkinen from 2005 to 2013, has also been employed as operations director.
Michael Zotos, Mäkinen's rally engineer when he drove for Subaru, is confirmed as technical director, and Simon Carrier, who headed the Ford Focus RS design team at M-Sport, is chief designer. Tom Fowler, Hirvonen's engineer at Ford, is chief of engineering and Mikko Ruoho, a Tommi Mäkinen Racing engineer since 2007, is chief of electronics.
In January, Toyota Motor Corporation president and CEO Akio Toyoda confirmed the Japanese manufacturer's return to the WRC at the start of the year, ending a 17-year absence from the championship.