Toyota Gazoo Racing’s success story in the FIA World Rally Championship continues. The Japanese giant has been back at rallying’s highest level for three years – and it’s won a world title for two of those.
Tommi Mäkinen’s squad started the year defending a manufacturers’ crown and ended it celebrating the drivers’ title with Estonian star Ott Tänak. Aboard Toyota’s Yaris WRC, the 32-year-old was, at times, unbeatable.
From early in the season, Ott and co-driver Martin Järveoja had the aura of champions in the making. There were some issues along the way, with electrical gremlins slowing the Yaris on occasion in the first half of the season and a bunch of wheel rims which weren’t perfectly equipped to deal with the rough and tumble at the side of the Tarmac roads.
Both cost valuable points and, arguably, Tänak the chance of celebrating the title in Llandudno instead of Salou.
There’s no denying Tänak shouldered the burden of points collection for the Puuppola-based team and the lack of consistency from wingmen Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala severely dented Toyota’s chances of retaining the makes’ title.
When the team was firing on all cylinders, it was a real force to be reckoned with. ADAC Rallye Deutschland was the perfect demonstration of the potential with Tänak winning and Meeke and Latvala joining him to lock out the podium with second and third. A few more of those results and the title race would have looked a lot closer than it did.
Meeke made his debut with the team this year and started superbly, playing himself into the seat with a series of strong points-paying results. But a mistake in Portugal cost him a near-certain podium, while a brace of errors in Finland tested Mäkinen’s patience.
Latvala’s inability to win left Finland bereft of a top-flight success for the first time in 24 years.
This was a difficult season for J-ML, another one marked by both the promise and potential for success, but too often blighted by mistakes, disappointment and frustration.
That was never more evident than in Italy, where he rolled out of the lead with an accident that ranked as one of the softest and silliest of his career.
Having supplied the fastest car and, on paper, one of the strongest teams, Toyota will be left with little to show for that effort and investment from January 1 following Tänak’s shock departure. Apart from the arrival of a six-time world champion called Ogier, of course………