Toyota eyes WRC progress with return to gravel

Toyota’s World Rally Championship (WRC) campaign will draw on its extensive experience on gravel roads when its two Yaris WRC cars face the challenging dirt stages of Rally Argentina this weekend.

Drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen have tasted success in Argentina with Latvala victorious in the 2014 WRC round while Hänninen won in 2010 when the event was part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

Latvala and Hänninen recently honed their skills on the Italian island of Sardinia, which has roads representative of those in Argentina, and will also host round seven of the World Rally Championship in June.

Most of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team’s pre-season testing was on gravel and it has benefited from last month’s Rally Mexico, the first true gravel round of the year.

Team principal Tommi Mäkinen said the experience, in particular from Mexico with its gravel and high altitude, would be useful for further development of the Yaris WRC in Argentina.

“We’ve been improving the car with every rally, so our goal is to see another improvement in Argentina,” Mäkinen said.

“I think we’re in a stronger position now than we were going into Mexico, so we can aim for a good result,” he said.

Latvala is second in the driver’s championship, just 13 points behind Sébastien Ogier who has won the past four titles.

Rally Argentina, round five of the 2017 WRC, comprises 18 competitive stages over 357.59km.

Conditions vary widely from high-speed soft and sandy roads with river crossings in the valleys to rocky mountain tracks, making car set-up and tyre choice difficult.

The softer stages are prone to becoming heavily rutted as more cars pass over them, while fog and even ice can be found amid changeable weather in the mountain sections.

The rally starts with a super special stage on Friday morning and concludes in the early hours of Monday (all times AEST) with the power stage that offers additional WRC points.