Toyota President Akio Toyoda, aka “Morizo” drove the GR Yaris H2―a special hydrogen-engine version of the Toyota GR Yaris―in a demonstration run during Rally Belgium, the ninth round of the World Rally Championship (WRC). It was the first time Toyota had shown an under-development hydrogen-engine vehicle on public roads outside Japan.
Joining President Toyoda as co-driver* was Finnish rallying legend Juha Kankkunen, who won his fourth WRC title with Toyota in 1993. The GR Yaris H2 served as a test car on special stage 11, (20 August) running ahead of the safety car to confirm safe conditions along nine miles of narrow farm roads. Even though Morizo had never driven on those roads nor had a chance to survey them before he began his run, Kankkunen’s guidance, allowed him to tackle the extremely slippery and changing road surfaces without incident.
After the run he said: “I am grateful to Juha for his courtesy in allowing me to drive. He guided me in sync with my driving, making me feel comfortable. The roads were tough―not only slippery but also narrow, and their surfaces seemed to change from moment to moment. They were like the roads used in Rally Japan, and it was a good chance to think about races with spectators in mind. We also had a (Toyota) Mirai (fuel cell electric vehicle) at the venue demonstrating external power supply, and I believe that, together with driving using a hydrogen engine, we were able to highlight in Europe the potential of hydrogen as an option for achieving carbon neutrality.”
His co-pilot Kankkunen added: “Akio’s driving was great. And the hydrogen engine put out solid torque, making it no different from a gasoline engine. Because they emit zero CO2, I believe hydrogen engines will become one of the options for achieving carbon neutrality not only in the world of motorsports but also in the world of everyday cars.”
For the rest of the drivers participating in the Rally, the farmland roads of the West Flanders region lived up to their reputation as one of rallying’s most demanding asphalt tests with frequent surface changes and little margin for error. The Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team achieved another double podium finish as Elfyn Evans finished just five seconds away from victory in second position, with Esapekka Lappi in third.
Kalle Rovanperä was one of many drivers to be caught out when he rolled his car on Friday: the first significant setback in what has been an outstanding season so far from the young Finn. An extensive rebuild by the team’s technicians allowed Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen to return under restart rules the next day and target points in the rally-ending Power Stage. There they set the fastest time to leave Belgium with a commanding 72-poin championship lead with four rounds remaining.
Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin took over the lead when Rovanperä dropped out, but a slow puncture and a 10-second penalty meant they ended Friday third overall. Having fought back on Saturday and gained second overall, Evans continued to close the gap to the leader Ott Tänak with two stage wins on the final morning, but just fell short by the rally’s end.
Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm scored their third podium from six starts with a consistent and clean performance. The result ensures TGR still have a strong lead of 88 points in the manufacturers’ championship.
Takamoto Katsuta recovered from an issue on Friday morning to finish fifth in his TGR WRT Next Generation entry with co-driver Aaron Johnston. He is now the only driver to have finished every rally in the top 10 this season.
Akio Toyoda (Team Founder)
“First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to the mechanics. Before I joined the team on Saturday morning, the news about Kalle and Jonne came in. It was similar to what happened to Esapekka and Janne in Finland, but it seemed goggles wouldn’t help the situation this time. I was disappointed that I might not be able to see Kalle’s driving, but I had a message late at night that the repair was made and the team were waiting for my visit next morning. I really thank the mechanics for working very hard to fix the car for Kalle and Jonne. Thanks to them and all involved, I was able to see all four TGR cars running up close.
“Also, thanks to the support and cooperation of many parties including the FIA, WRC Promotor, and the organiser, we were able to let WRC fans hear the exhaust sound of a hydrogen engine. Motorsport is really a sport. I believe people get excited because sports stimulate our five senses, and that’s why I want to keep the engine’s vibration and exhaust sound in motorsports. While we are trying to achieve carbon neutrality, we still want to keep the excitement. It was great that we were able to share that feeling in Europe.
“To be honest, I wanted to stand on the podium with the crews. This time I watched Elfyn, Scott, Esapekka and Janne a bit far away from the podium, but there is another chance for me to stand there this year. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity at Rally Japan in November and I will get soaked in Champagne with them then. (And of course I expect wins in the other rallies as well!).
”PS to Ott – Congratulations on your victory! I sent a message to you in December 2019 saying “let’s meet on the podium again and I will spray Champagne at you”. It didn’t come true in Belgium, so it must happen in Japan for sure!”
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“To have two cars on the podium is a good result at the end of the weekend. We had the speed here, we were more competitive than last year and the car was performing well. A few things just didn’t go our way. Elfyn has been getting closer to that victory, it was a good weekend from him. He did a pushed really well this morning and there was just a bit too much to do with only four stages today. It was a perfect drive from Esapekka: exactly what we wanted from him this weekend and really helping us in the manufacturers’ championship. And we also saw Kalle showing how strong a driver he is after the disappointment of Friday. And by winning the Power Stage he’s still in a strong position in the championship. Finally, it was fantastic to have Akio with us following the rally and experiencing the stages himself with hydrogen power alongside Juha Kankkunen. It shows just how much he loves motorsport and we are really grateful to have his support.”
Elfyn Evans (driver car 33)
“You can never be completely happy with finishing second, but it’s been a strong weekend overall. There were just a few unfortunate things that cost us some time here and there, but that’s rallying and it’s part of the game. The car has been good and it was nice to be in the fight from the beginning of the rally. We made some good progress with the set-up for the final day and I feel really comfortable with where we’ve ended up. We tried to keep the pressure on Ott, and we knew it was a bit of a tall order with the limited kilometres we had left but we clawed back some time; as we expected it just wasn’t quite enough.”
Kalle Rovanperä (driver car 69)
“Of course it has not been the best weekend, but the season has been good until this point and sometimes mistakes happen. After the crash on Friday, I think we did everything we could as a team to bounce back which was important, and it was a nice way to thank the mechanics for the great work they did repairing the car. In the Power Stage it was not easy to step up the pace after driving quite safely before that, but it was good to get the maximum five points and it means that the gap in the championship hasn’t closed too much. We just need to keep getting good results, starting in Greece.”
Esapekka Lappi (driver car 4)
“I’m very satisfied with the job we did this weekend. Third position is a very good result for us and it’s good for the team. I wasn’t really expecting this kind of result, having not been here for eight years. We were not the fastest, but other drivers were making mistakes and we didn’t really make any, and this paid off in the end. A final day like today is always tricky when you’re in a good position and you want to finish the rally, but we managed to get through it.”
PROVISIONAL FINAL CLASSIFICATION, YPRES RALLY BELGIUM
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) 2h25m38.9s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +5.0s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1m41.6s
4 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +3m28.5s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +6m06.1s
6 Stéphane Lefebvre/Andy Malfoy (Citroën C3 Rally2) +9m45.7s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +10m03.8s
8 Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroën C3 Rally2) +10m54.8s
9 Chris Ingram/Craig Drew (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +11m20.8s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +11m26.8s
63 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1h10m29.5s
(Results as of 15:30 on Sunday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)
The Acropolis Rally in Greece (September 8-11) is famous for its rocky mountain roads and high temperatures which combine to create a tough challenge for cars, tyres and drivers alike.