The Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team will begin a bold new era in the FIA World Rally Championship when the 2022 season begins and the GR Yaris Rally1 makes its debut on the Rally Monte-Carlo this week (20 – 23 January).
The GR Yaris Rally1 is the successor to the all-conquering Yaris WRC, which claimed a clean sweep of the manufacturers’, drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles in the 2021 season that concluded just eight weeks ago at Monza in Italy. The roads of the French Alps will now play host to the first event for the revolutionary Rally1 cars, which take over from the World Rally Cars that have formed the highest category of the WRC for the past quarter of a century.
Rally1 cars feature several significant changes compared to their predecessors, headlined by the arrival of hybrid technology at the highest level of rallying for the first time. The hybrid unit in each car comprises a 3.9kWh battery and a motor-generator unit (MGU) delivering an additional 100kW (132bhp) under acceleration.
In the GR Yaris Rally1 this is combined with the proven 1.6-litre turbocharged engine from the Yaris WRC to provide the drivers with more than 490bhp. The engine will run on a 100 per cent sustainable fuel, the first of its kind to be used in an FIA world championship.
The GR Yaris Rally1 is built around a dedicated spaceframe chassis offering increased safety protection for drivers and co-drivers. Other transformations required by the regulations include less complex aerodynamics, a return to a mechanical gearshift and removal of the active centre differential. These changes will increase the focus on the skills of the drivers, who will also need to adapt to the demands around regenerating and deploying the hybrid energy on the stages, while working with their engineers to optimise the performance and drivability within these new parameters.
Since it ran for the first time last spring, the GR Yaris Rally1 has undergone a thorough testing programme which for the last few weeks has been focused on the particular demands of Rallye Monte-Carlo. The event is famed for its changeable conditions, which can vary from dry asphalt to snow and ice, and could provide an especially challenging start for the drivers in their new cars.
When the rally begins on Thursday night, the GR Yaris Rally1 of reigning champion Sébastien Ogier will be the first of the new generation of cars to start a competitive stage. The eight-time world champion, who has also won Rallye Monte-Carlo a record eight times, is embarking on a partial schedule of events this season along with a new co-driver, Benjamin Veillas. Leading Toyota Gazoo Racing’s effort over the full season will be British driver Elfyn Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin, who finished second in the 2021 standings, and the Finnish pairing of Kalle Rovanperä and his co-driver Jonne Halttunen, who came fourth overall last season.
A total of four GR Yaris Rally1 cars will be present on every round, with Takamoto Katsuta and co-driver Aaron Johnston contesting the full season for a newly-created team, Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team Next Generation.
The crews today begin three days of reconnaissance of the stages, 85 per cent of which are new compared to 2021. For the 90th edition of the rally, the service park moves to Monaco itself from Gap. After a shakedown on Thursday morning, the rally will begin in the evening from the famous Casino Square ahead of an opening pair of night stages – the second includes a return to the classic Col de Turini, to be passed in darkness for the first time since 2013.
Friday is the longest day of the rally and consists of three stages to be run twice with no mid-day service, only a tyre-fitting zone in Puget-Théniers. The task is similar on Saturday, with the action taking place further to the west: Three stages will be run in the morning, two of which will be repeated in the afternoon after a tyre-fitting zone in Digne-les-Bains. The rally’s final day on Sunday is made up of two stages run twice – the latter stage finishing in Entrevaux is the only one that is identical to last year.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“Rallying is entering a very new era and it’s a very exciting moment. There are a lot of question marks and Rally Monte-Carlo will be giving us some of the answers. As a team we have been working very hard to be ready, but nobody can know how the different cars compare against each other until we get to the first rally. We might also see a difference between the drivers who feel the most confident with their new cars and those who will still be finding that confidence. There are a lot of changes for them to adapt to with how they drive and set up the cars. During testing this has been maybe the most important thing for the team: That our drivers feel confident and comfortable behind the wheel. For a driver, Monte Carlo has always been the most difficult rally in the championship. A lot is going to depend on the conditions: We have more power, but how do you use that power in snowy and icy conditions? On top of everything, the move from Gap to Monaco means there are a lot of new stages. There are so many unknowns and that makes it really exciting.”
Sébastien Ogier (driver car 1)
“I’m at the beginning of a different stage in my career, and as I’m not taking part in the full championship, the feeling is a little bit different to usual for me at this time of the year. But being part of this programme with Toyota Gazoo Racing is still exciting and going to Rally Monte-Carlo is always special for me. I’m still a competitor and I still want to win, so I will be giving my best to perform. I know the team has been working very hard to be ready with this new generation of car and big steps have been made in every test. I’ve had the chance to do three days of testing in the GR Yaris Rally1 in December and another day last week, all to prepare for this event. It’s quite a big change and it’s an exciting challenge to try and adapt to that. But I think going to Monte Carlo will be a huge challenge for everybody: There’s more uncertainty than ever going into this rally.”
Elfyn Evans (driver car 33)
“This is an exciting time in our sport and I’m looking forward to the challenge of these new cars. Since I first tested the GR Yaris Rally1 we’ve made some good progress, but it’s impossible to know where we stand relative to the competition until we get to Monte Carlo. So much has changed and it’s a clean sheet of paper. It’s not been easy to jump from a car that was so well-developed, where everything was coming quite easily, and into something that is a lot more unknown. The additional power from the hybrid system makes a huge difference and how you manage it could be worth quite a lot in certain cases. We’ve already learned a lot in testing and I’m sure we’re going to continue learning a lot during the year, starting in Monte Carlo. It’s a rally that’s always a bit of a lottery with the weather anyway, and now the base has moved south there’s a lot of new stages and different terrain to get to grips with.”
Kalle Rovanperä (driver car 69)
“My feeling with the new car is good and we have some good preparation behind us. With any new car there are always many things to work on and to improve, but I feel we have been making good progress all the time. It’s been especially interesting to get used to the boost from the hybrid. It gives you much more power, and that’s usually a good thing, but it can also be a bit tricky in certain points if you’re not ready to use it. As a driver you need to think about how to use it and if you can do that better than the others it could make quite a big difference. Rally Monte-Carlo is going to be quite special this year. It’s always a tricky rally but this year we are going to have a lot of new stages as well as a totally new car. Friday and Saturday are going to be long days without mid-day service and if you can get through those days without issues that will already be quite good.”