Do you know what day is today? The fact that it’s Friday is irrelevant, it’s not even important that it’s December 6th. No, today is the day we, once again, talk about Toyota, based on the yesterday’s (literally) news linking them with, can you guess, a return to the World Rally Championship.
We often get such days. The days of “Toyota is back” news, stories and prayers. Ever since they left the World Rally Champion and joined the Formula 1 (where they failed so spectacularly), Toyota is present in all the rumours concerning possible return or first-time entry of new teams into the WRC. The rumours intensified further when current crop of 1.6-liter cars became the weapon of choice in the series. And then, Volkswagen joined, followed by Hyundai. Big names, too big for Toyota to ignore. The fact that even Opel (General Motors) is also sneaking around the WRC and gathering information means car companies are interested in this motor sports series. How long can Toyota ignore the WRC? Well, for once, they can continue to ignore it for as long as it (the WRC) poses no real threat to the Formula 1 and other motor sports in terms of media presence. However, if at some point WRC finally evolves into a household name and ends up on Sunday afternoon TV programme, car manufacturers, such as Toyota, will not be able to deny its appeal.
With Volkswagen already in and winning and Hyundai ready to join the show in little over a month, Toyota will not want to be late for the party, should the not-so-new-anymore promoter really score next year and WRC starts gaining popularity. To that end, Toyota are going to be ready, at least ready enough to know whether the whole deal makes any sense or not. To help them learn more about the challenge that is modern WRC, Toyota plans to build a Yaris-based WRC car next year. What does it mean in terms of future plans? Well, for one, it’s a clear signal to anyone willing (or capable) to listen. I believe it translates into “make a proper series out of WRC, show it on TV and in media and we’re in”.
My, admittedly limited, perspective on things tells me that Toyota are very much interested in what the WRC will look like in coming years. More interested in that than in the car itself – it’s not the car that’s stopping Toyota from joining the series. It’s the return of investment. But until we all learn more, Toyota will not sit idly. They’ll spend their time building this Yaris WRC. Just to keep themselves occupied, to learn a bit or two about the new car and new regulations, but mostly to be prepared when the time comes to say the decisive Yes or No.
To summarize – Toyota wants in, WRC must grow, Yaris wants to play.