Motorsport Monday: Toyota's First WRC Victory In Nearly 18 Years

It has been 17 years, four months, and 24 days since Toyota’s last World Rally Championship victory, the 1999 Rally China. Back then people were still anxious about the upcoming Y2K crisis, and rallyist Jari-Matti Latvala was barely a teenager. Here we are, the second WRC event of the 2017 season (Rally Sweden), Toyota with a brand new car fighting tooth and nail with Hyundai, Volkswagen’s abrupt pullout of the series still a void yet to be soundly filled. Ford is still here, while Citroen and Skoda are still floating around. Jari-Matti with his 17th WRC overall victory, marked a true milestone as the first driver to win with the new Toyota Yaris rally car. Read on to find out more. 

Latvala’s victory for Toyota, he says, was due in part to Latvala. His expertise gleaned from his four-year stint with Volkswagen’s dominant effort was instrumental in the car being ready for the 2017 season. When he joined the team in December of 2016, Toyota was still finalizing homologation of their 2017 car, and Latvala’s input, selecting gear ratios and how to setup the differential, is said to have helped engineer this victory. “If I had come to the team two weeks later then I wouldn’t be winning,” Latvala told Autosport
Then again, a large player in Toyota’s win was actually the mistake of competitor Thierry Neuville shown below. This mistake, seemingly minor, ended the Hyundai driver’s chances with broken suspension and a dashed chance of victory. Neuville had been more than 40 seconds clear of the competition with just 3 stages remaining, but this mistake pushed the three-way battle for second up to the forefront.

Ford’s Ott Tanak had the benefit of running last on the road through Saturday morning, which meant other drivers were pushing the snow out of the way and he was able to take the fastest time across three stages. Latvala lost time sweeping the stage, allowing Tanak and Sebastien Ogier to catch up. Two quick stages in the afternoon saw Latvala stretch his ‘lead’ a bit over Tanak who suffered from excessive oversteer with a diff setup gaffe. Ogier finally suffered a spin during the first stage of Sunday morning, giving up second to teammate Tanak. 
It is interesting to note that the new 2017 spec WRC cars are too goddamn fast. One stage of Rally Sweden had the cars at full throttle for the majority of the stage, and it was cancelled for excessive speed and potential danger. Mads Ostberg had a rear wing knocked off, losing all that downforce, and said the car was absolutely undrivable, sitting out the final stage. Hyundai factory driver Hayden Paddon had a power steering problem that made driving the car akin to ‘wrestling a 400 pound lion‘, ultimately finishing 7th overall. 

Frenchman Didier Auriol won the 11th round of the 1999 season in Toyota’s factory-backed Castrol-liveried Corolla WRC cars, placing nearly one minute ahead of Subaru’s Richard Burns and his Toyota teammate Carlos Sainz in third. 
It was a rainy and wet Rally China, and drivers were concerned that the safety helicopters were not able to fly that weekend, making crashes all the more dangerous. Taking place in the Guangdong province, the wet weather meant this would be a race of attrition, and nobody was surprised when that’s exactly what happened. Mitsubishi’s Tommi Makinen set the fastest times on day 1, but incurred a penalty for leaving the service area late, pushing him out of contention. By the end of day 1, both Fords (McRae and Radstrom) were knocked out with crashes at the same concrete culvert, while Makinen’s teammate Freddy Loix crashed out during the 7th special stage. The first day ended with Richard Burns in the lead with Auriol in second. 
Day 2 began with Burns taking the fastest time on the first stage, but Auriol took top honors on the second stage and absolutely dominated for the remainder of the event. On special stage 14 Auriol ran 12 seconds faster than Burns, taking the overall lead of the rally. Makinen finally was forced to retire during the second day, promoting Carlos Sainz to third, and Burns set a conservative pace to finish second. This was Toyota’s first WRC victory in over a year, and their last until this weekend changed that.  

You can watch the full BBC-produced 1999 Rally China highlights package here. 

[Source:,, RallysportMag,]

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2 responses to “Motorsport Monday: Toyota's First WRC Victory In Nearly 18 Years”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    Thanks Brad, I had forgotten about this. Sounds like the WRC field is still to completely shake out & develop reliability with the new cars so it will be an unpredictable season at the least.
    I have to laugh at racing driver claims like losing the rear wing makes the car “undrivable”. Translation: I had to go slower. That said the amount of aero that is on these rally cars is pretty silly, due to excessive speed and vulnerability to damage, plus it must be increasing wear to the roads.
    It is amazing how much dirt and rock get removed by a WRC field passing over dirt roads thanks to the advances in suspension & tire technology that meant the previous WRC cars where heaps faster than the old Group B cars even though they had 1/3 the horsepower.

  2. crank_case Avatar

    Did they do it without cheating this time?

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