If you thought the recent involvement of Toyota in the 24-hour of Le Mans endurance race was the start of a new chapter for the Japanese giant, you may be right.
Not only has Toyota all but confirmed TMG, its new motorsport brand for passenger cars (similar to what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz) but the company is also actively working on a potential re-entry into the World Rally Championship (WRC).
The car that is likely to do it is a Toyota Yaris with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine currently undergoing final stages of development. Speaking to the media at the Toyota Europe Motorsport facility in Cologne, Germany, Yoshiaki Kinoshita, president of TMG, confirmed that the final target for the 1.6-litre turbo engine is to find its way to the WRC.
Nonetheless, he admitted several challenges still face the company before that could happen. Since Toyota left the WRC in 1999, the people and skills required for a WRC program may no longer be readily available inside Toyota or TMG.
“Of course the final target is the WRC program but to get back in WRC program we need several steps. Because we stopped rally program in 1999 after that most of the people are gone, there is no knowhow inside the company”
Asked when TMG can get a car ready for the WRC, Kinoshita said: “we hope we are ready in 2014, but of course we need official approval from TMC”.
Under the current financial situation, the WRC project may require Toyota to drop out of the world endurance championship (which includes the 24-hour Le Mans).
“Nobody knows the economical situation in the future, if we have very good situation maybe we can do both (WRC and Le Mans) but if we have a bad situation we can not (do) even a single project, you never know.”
This may not come at such a big shock, since Kinoshita is currently disappointed with the ‘unfair’ state of regulations affecting petrol cars in comparison to diesel vehicles for 2014 world endurance championship.
“I think we can do only one project at this moment. The future is unknown but we need to prepare the rally project, because we don’t know the 2014 LeMan because I am very unhappy with the 2014 LeMan regulations”
Kinoshita was adamant that the 2014 LeMan regulations regarding fuel efficiency targets for petrol and diesel were totally unfair for Toyota (and advantageous for Audi’s diesel engines).
He said that unless fuel efficiency targets are changed, Toyota couldn’t confirm a start position at LeMans in 2014 (even though the company has previously committed to a three-year project starting this year).
Even if Toyota doesn’t enter the WRC in 2014, the likelihood of the Japanese giant getting back into WRC has never looked so likely.