Toyota Gazoo Racing team boss Tommi Makinen has strongly hinted that one of his World Rally Championship drivers next year will be Juho Hanninen when the manufacturer returns to the series in 2017.
The four-time WRC champion has taken charge of Toyota's preparations to return to the premier rally championship and looks set to confirm his first driver for next year in the shape of the highly-rated Hanninen.
The strong hint came after Makinen reportedly told Finnish broadcaster YLE “Next season, Toyota has three race drivers, one of which is very likely to be Juho Hänninen.” Toyota is yet to officially confirm the number of WRC entries for 2017 or any of its drivers.
Hanninen's recent work helping Hyundai develop the i20 WRC machine in preparation for its debut campaign in 2014 has heavily influenced Makinen's decision, while the Finnish driver has also hold a development role with Skoda Motorsport.
The 34-year-old has won the Intercontinental Rally Championship, the SWRC and the European championship in consecutive years between 2010 to 2012 in a Skoda Fabia S2000 and has been on the cusp of a full-time WRC drive for a number of years.
Hanninen has also completed the recce at all WRC rounds so far this year and currently shares testing duties with Makinen on the 2017-specification Yaris. His last WRC outing was at 2015's Rally Finland in a privateer Ford Fiesta RS WRC where he finished an impressive sixth overall.