Tommi Mäkinen and Toyota's entry into the WRC

Tommi Mäkinen and Toyota's entry into the WRC
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T he bomb went off on July 7th, the smell of the burning fuse could only be smelled in Cologne five days before The employees of Toyota Motorsport GmbH could not believe their noses. The message sounded incredible, but it came from high up and it was a slap in the face of the staff. The rally commitment of the world's largest automaker, which was quietly launched four years earlier by TMG employees and officially announced in the spring of this year, is not being carried out by its official sports department. The new unrestricted regent of the Toyota WRC return in 2017 is Tommi Mäkinen.

The people of Cologne saw the blow coming late. Head of Technology Pascal Vasselon thought the rumors circulating since summer 2014 were pure conspiracy theories - now they have become reality.

Mäkinen between pride und Sorge

Tommi Mäkinen was walking and rushing around in the service park of the Rally Finland, his facial expressions fluctuating between a proud grin and a steep forehead. The honor is great, but the burden weighs heavily, and the clock is ticking relentlessly. Mäkinen spoke to the manufacturers' sports directors and asked for advice. He needs all the help he can get. And although Toyota is said to be a tough competitor for the teams from Hyundai, Citroën and VW, the Finn is running open doors to those responsible.

The World Cup is in a consolidation phase, audience numbers and TV ratings are increasing. The Toyota entry is too important to go wrong. The enthusiasm in the WRC circus lasted only a short time, since the beginning of July the concern has predominated. Tommi Mäkinen not only talks to the teams, but also to the press. A Finnish rally correspondent, who knows the 'Tomminator' from his active days, says: 'The longer I listen to him, the more scared I get.'

Even in patriotic Finland there was no enthusiasm , when Mäkinen announced that his own team base would initially also serve as a home for the newly formed Toyota works team. Puuppola belongs to the central Finnish municipality of Jyväskylä and has around 14,000 inhabitants with the municipality of Palokka. It's about a three-hour drive to the airport or the ferry terminal in Helsinki.

In central Finland, after his retirement as a driver, Mäkinen put a chic wood-paneled commercial building in the forest. He left Group N cars there for Subaruto prepare. When his compatriot Kimi Räikkönen was tired of Formula 1 and wanted to sniff rally air, Mäkinen presented him with a Fiat Punto S2000. In July, people in Cologne surfed the Tommi Mäkinen Racing website a lot. There was head shaking and laughter at an engine test stand on casters that looks like a better tea cart. In Marsdorf you have large test stands, two wind tunnels and probably the most modern and largest motorsport factory in the world, but TMG is now just a handyman.

Toyota enlarges the playground

The 1.6-liter turbo is to be further developed in the Rhineland, and probably also the aerodynamics, which should be of greater importance in the future. New regulations will apply from 2017. Wider cars with up to 400 hp and larger wings are intended to increase the attractiveness. In order to break the great experience of the established teams, Pascal Vasselon in the WRC Technology Commission is demanding ever greater freedom in the rules, the other members are already slightly agitated. Citroën chief technology officer Xavier Mestelan recently threatened at the German World Cup run in Trier: 'We have to slow them down. I'm going to the next meeting with a long list of suggestions.'

The demand for more and more technical leeway is now also being given Whether intentionally or unintentionally, a political dimension: the more complicated the future cars are, the more difficult the job is for Mäkinen, because the new team boss has little to show apart from the full support from Japan. He announced full-bodied that they wanted only the best goods for both staff and suppliers. If you look at the first names, it looks more like old rope teams. Mäkinen appointed the Greek Michael Zotos as head of technology early on. In the last active years of the Finn, he was his race engineer at Prodrive Subaru and most recently looked after a rallycross car for the Japanese for the American market.

The drive is supposed to be provided by Xtrac, which is no surprise, because the British have been supplying the majority of the factory teams for decades. The most important technical component on a World Rally Car are the shock absorbers. TMG had looked for a partner and experimented, but the previous project manager Emanuele Battisti wanted to keep the decision open as to whether they might build the dampers themselves. Battisti is a trained chassis engineer and was once brought to Cologne to strengthen the Formula 1 team.

Mäkinen visited the halls in the cathedral city twice and made no secret of his displeasure. He announced that in future the dampers would be manufactured by BOS. The suspension specialists from France, who have become well-known in the mountain bike sport, were suppliers to Subaru in Mäkinen's last years as a driver. Until the Japanese left the World Cup at the end of 2008, the drivers complained about their unreliability. Mäkinen even announced that he would be herDo some development work yourself, from testing to determining the suspension points. 'I have enough experience', he claims.

Doubts about the champion

Such sayings worry even die-hard ones Mäkinen admirers for frowning. The dominant man of the late 1990s wasn't exactly known as a great tech tinkerer. He usually had the set-ups done by his mentor Lasse Lampi. A technician from Cologne who cares about anonymity complains: 'I would have understood if you had brought Carlos Sainz.'

But it was not the Spaniard who at the right moment of his life became the most powerful automobile manager in the world came across the way. Akio Toyoda sees himself only partially as a corporate leader, to a considerable extent he is a racer. He drives long-distance races on the Nordschleife and is a big rally fan. Mäkinen gave him driving tips in 2013 and invited him to Puuppola in the summer of 2014, where he even gave him a Toyota GT86 that had been redesigned for the WRC and a Group N Subaru under it -A_-headline v-A_-headline__article - beta '> Toyota boss with childlike enthusiasm

The 59-year-old Toyoda tends to be childish enthusiasm and to a considerable star and ancestor cult. He followed Björn Waldegaard from Sweden, who died in 2014 and won three times for Toyota in Kenya, at a meeting. He posthumously erected a memorial to Toyota head tester Hiromu Naruse, who died in a road accident in 2010 at the age of 66 in the Eifel region by founding Gazoo Racing. Gazoo is also a kind of works team in the opaque network of Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyoda has appointed himself CEO.

In Japan, a Lexus was recently created for the GT3 World Championship, which was anything but competitive. To save the day, the project went to TMG of all places, a serious setback for patriots on the board, for whom the German branch has been a constant thorn in their flesh for years. 'Powered by Gazoo Racing' has recently been written on the TMG trucks, which is a thorn in the side of the Cologne-based company. Mäkinen wears polo shirts with the Gazoo logo, the Toyota President raves: 'The longer I talked to him, the more confident I became: I want to work with him.'

As a driver, Tommi Mäkinen is above any criticism sublime. From 1988 to 2003 he won 24 world championship races, won four times in a row in Monte Carlo and from 1996 to 1999 was the first driver to win four world championship titles in a row. While even well-meaning people fear that the Toyota job could be a size too big for the 'Tomminator', Toyoda believes that Mäkinen has so many grandiose views and ideas that he could even improve the development of production cars. The only thing missing is the announcement that his new favorite will soon be crossing the Päijänne on foot.

But Mäkinenhas no time to walk across the water. Due to the restart requested by him and approved by Toyoda, the schedule is so tight that he cannot look for the best solutions in many things, but has to quickly choose the fastest possible. According to Mäkinen, eight engineers have hired him from September 1st.

Japanese juniors as drivers

In addition, he brought the veteran Mikko Hirvonen, who retired in 2014, on board along with his former race engineer. The four-time runner-up will also serve as a mentor for two Japanese juniors who are set to advance to the top of the world by the end of the decade. Katsuka Takamoto and Hiroki Arai are the chosen ones for a sighting. After all, Arai has the right genes: a decade ago, his Subaru Impreza, his father Toshihiro, was a fixture among the gentlemen drivers in Group N. When the young Asians were first examined, Hirvonen is said to have rolled his eyes at an early age.

TMG had already launched a junior program in spring. The Frenchman Eric Camilli and the Finn Teemu Suninen are currently competing in the WRC2 with a Ford Fiesta due to a lack of suitable Toyota; publicly disregarded by the new team boss: 'That's a TMG thing.' But the matter is spicy. Suninen’s manager is the same Timo Jouhki who once financed Mäkinen to start a great career. Despite his retirement planning, Jouhki allowed himself to be persuaded to continue working. He wanted to make sure that everything was being steered in the right direction for the Finnish hope at TMG. Now he is busy trying to bring his former protégé to their senses: 'Tommi also knows that he needs capable juniors,' says Jouhki.

But Mäkinen first needs a team base, engineers, technicians, parts. VW sports director Jost Capito advised him to move to England. Many ex-Prodrive employees still live at Banbury, and there is a large selection of suppliers. 'The German market is tight,' says Capito. Mäkinen wants to make a decision in September where the future Toyota works team should reside. Moving into an office in Cologne and dividing a building block was never an option for him: 'This is a WEC team that builds sports prototypes. I want a headquarters where you can fully concentrate on rallies.'

The latter is suddenly no longer an issue since Mäkinen came to power. TMG has to deal withFinancing wind tunnel rental and the processing of development orders for series Toyota and saving on the Le Mans project, according to Pascal Vasselon, you had no money for a top driver in a WRC car. Tommi Mäkinen, on the other hand, admits that budgets are not his top priority. He makes no secret of the fact that he wants to put millions on the table for an Ogier or Latvala if necessary. As a precaution, VW has tied all of its drivers to itself up to and including 2017. Experts put the construction of a proper rally factory alone at 20 to 30 million euros.

Hyundai as a warning example

At Hyundai, we know what it means to set up a works team from scratch after a hasty board decision. The factory in Alzenau and the technical staff were only complete after a year and a half in ongoing World Cup business. Now people are starting to think about putting an R5 car on the wheels for customers after developing a new World Rally Car with their own department. The subject is complicated, because the FIA ​​prescribes serial parts for many components. Just exploring the best components is a science in itself. One month after taking office, Tommi Mäkinen announced that in addition to the WRC, he would also lay an R5 on the keel of Toyota - and that in parallel.

Hyundai Motorsport is currently working with 23 engineers. By the end of the year, Tommi Mäkinen Racing in Central Finland is said to have two dozen people working on CAD computers. The new boss wants to fill the light ranks with university graduates: 'They have fresh ideas.'

In 14 months, Toyota has to submit parts and drawings to the FIA ​​for homologation of the car. Admission must take place on January 1, 2017. The season starts three weeks later in Monte Carlo. Four test carriers are to be completed in Puuppola by March 2016. After that, six months of test drives and further development are on the agenda.

With the similarly hectic Hyundai program, team boss Michel Nandan told the corporate executives in Seoul early on that, given the rush, success could be a long time coming. Tommi Mäkinen sees no reason to warn his boss: 'Toyota is the world's largest manufacturer. I expect that we will be able to win right from the start.' So far nobody in the World Rally Championship believes that this plan will work.

At TMG, too, they have already been prepared for the fact that the rally department, which was torn out of the house overnight, could, in the best case scenario, get into difficulties worst case hits the wall. So that one does not come under suspicion of torpedoing the project in Japan, one has to give Mäkinen a helping hand as quickly and as best as possible. Even the Finn has long since recognized that without TMG he will be in a losing position. 'The whole thing is slowly being steered into order,' says his former managerJouhki.

Mäkinen assures that he is planning without TMG project manager Emanuele Battisti, rumors say the Italian is still working hard on his Yaris. Bruno di Pianta, team principal of the rally team Motorsport Italia hired by TMG for test drives, swears: 'We will continue testing at full throttle.'

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