This week Toyota began testing Yaris hybrid rally car that would bring green technology to one of motorsport’s most balls-out events. But when it debuts in the World Rally Championship, it might not be called a Yaris at all.
Testing began in earnest in the Tuscany region of Italy with a Toyota Yaris hybrid with a turbocharged 1.6 liter engine and an unspecified hybrid drivetrain. While the test car is using a Yaris chassis, the actual competitor car could be a new, as-yet-unreleased model.
To me at least, it seems like the Yaris would make the perfect rally competitor, and it’s due for a major update (or replacement) soon. Lest we forget, just a few months ago the Toyota Yaris-R wowed crowds with its 400 horsepower hybrid setup, and it isn’t too much of a jump to suggest that the rally car could use a similar drivetrain. Toyota is making a concentrated effort to shake off its stodgy image with concept cars like the new FT-1 Concept and Yaris Hybrid-R, and I’ve gotta say, they’re winning this doubter over.
The Yaris (or not Yaris) hybrid race car is conducting shakedown runs in the Tuscany region of Italy, where drivers Stephane Sarrazin and Sebastian Lindholm are flogging it about. While Toyota has neither confirmed nor denied entry into the 2015 WRC season, the European racing arm of Toyota, TMG, has already said it won’t compete this year. Instead, the likely entry for this new kind of hybrid rally car will be around 2017, when new technical regulations kick in.
Toyota hasn’t been a major competitor in the WRC since the early 90s, when its all-wheel drive Celica racked up three manufacturer wins and four driver titles for the Toyota team. A Toyota Corolla rally car also won its last title in 1999, and since then Toyota hasn’t been much into motorsports, only just returning to Le Mans in 2012. Instead the company has focused on bread-and-butter production cars like the Prius, and while this has been good for the bottom line, Toyota’s image among enthusiasts has suffered. A hybrid rally car would go a long way towards repairing those burnt bridges.
With Toyota’s vaunted return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a sexy new hybrid Supra successor, and now re-entering the world of rally racing with a hybrid competitor, this Japanese automaker is giving hybrid-haters second thoughts.