Ten drivers’ titles and 11 Rallye Monte-Carlo wins. That’ll do for starters. That’s the level of success and experience combining to lead Toyota Gazoo Racing next season.
WRC titans Sébastien Ogier and Tommi Mäkinen have joined forces for the Frenchman’s final season in the sport and, make no mistake, it’s going to be a thriller. But is it going to mean a seventh crown for Séb and a second manufacturers’ title for Tommi?
Anybody wondering how Ogier will get on with the new car should stop wasting their time. He’ll be fine. He’s shown himself to be one of the most versatile and adaptable drivers in the sport’s history.
As he steps aboard the Yaris for the first time in his native French Alps, he’ll rightly start round one as favourite. And victory would mean four wins in different cars in five years. Like we said… adaptable.
In employing Ogier, Toyota has moved firmly back into the big lead. That’s not to decry any of the fine drivers who have been on the books before, including incumbent world champion Ott Tänak, but there’s something about a big move like this one that resonates and sends a signal across the service park.
What was it Mäkinen said? “We know how strong Sébastien is. Being able to attract a driver with his record says a lot about what we have achieved in such a short space of time with this team.”
The appreciation’s mutual. Ogier had just turned 15 when Mäkinen started winning the rally that took the road past his front door. “I remember him in that red car,” smiled the Gap driver. “My first memory of this sport and the Monte is Tommi winning.”
Where experience counts – which is just about everywhere in the WRC – few will be able to touch Toyota. Yes, Hyundai also boasts 10 drivers’ titles, but the Sébastien wearing blue and orange won’t be the ubiquitous force Ogier will be. Loeb’s only on a part-programme, remember.
One thing which does make joining a new team more challenging is when there’s no existing driver to turn data into a real-life feel on the road. Again, Ogier’s not new to that. He and Esapekka Lappi were both newbies at Citroën this year. And Ogier still won in Monte.
Talking of Ogier’s team-mates, he’s delighted to be back with Elfyn Evans. The Welshman knows his way around cars (think back to Turkey in 2018, when Elfyn helped point Ogier in the right direction to fix the steering roadside). The two worked well at M-Sport and we can expect more of the same.
Kalle Rovanperä brings youth to the table. The 19-year-old is ready to learn but where he knows the road, expect him to be bang on the pace.
Toyota Gazoo Racing has got pace, performance, potential and entertainment written all over it for 2020.