Toyota is ready for its FIA World Rally Championship return next season, according to the Japanese executive who oversaw the company’s last success in the series.
Koei Saga admits he had worries over Toyota Gazoo Racing’s WRC comeback after a 16-year absence, but believes Tommi Mäkinen’s Finland-based squad is capable of achieving strong results with the Yaris World Rally Car.
“The last time we had a victory at this competition was when I was the general manager of the motorsport section, and that is a long time ago,” said Saga. “Of course, things have changed and I had some concerns, but I could reassure myself that our staff are doing a really, really good job, a splendid job.
“I think, of course, we will confront many challenges but we from Japan, the headquarters staff, will support the team on site and we all share the ‘one team, one dream’ slogan. So I am very much convinced we will have good results and I’m very much looking forward to the competition,” he said.
The Yaris has been developed from a blank sheet of paper to comply with 2017’s exciting new WRC regulations, which bring more powerful and dynamic-looking cars. It has completed more than 10,000km of testing ahead of its debut at January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Saga, team vice-principal and senior managing officer of Toyota Motor Corporation, said there were both positives and negatives to designing the car from scratch.
“It can be an advantage because we are free of influences from the past when it comes to the design or the legacy we have, but, of course, it is difficult to have no benchmark. When it comes to rallying it is not just about competitive times, so it is maybe a deficit not to have a car that is now running so that we can compare.
“However, we are always determined to make ideal cars and ever-better cars so we are always pursuing the best, so maybe there is no benchmark needed at all. We have a very good team with a lot of experience so I don’t have to worry so much,” he said.
The automotive giant’s return evokes memories of four drivers’ and three manufacturers’ titles in the 1990s courtesy of some of the sport’s biggest names, including Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.
You can hear more of Koei Saga’s thoughts on Toyota’s return below.