Toyota's WRC comeback: return with obstacles

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Toyota's WRC comeback
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V maybe it was just the bare fear, the rumors got into the herb let shoot. The vague idea that Toyota would be back had haunted the service park for years, but it sounded a bit like the constant hope that there is still a second earth out in space. Conspiracy theories were making the rounds: the president wanted, but the board was against it, they whispered. The president poured fuel on the fire: he was pro forma the boss, but he actually had nothing to say. He showed up in Finland, drove an all-wheel drive GT86. Everything in private, just great fun, assured the great boss. Of course nobody believed him.

Toyota in Cologne with a great rally tradition

But then the setback: Have you heard that Japan was cutting off Cologne? Tommi Mäkinen is already in the starting blocks. After all, the GT86, which was half a Subaru, was prepared by the four-time Finnish world champion. There are strong forces on the board who would do nothing better than to shut down the sports department in the Rhineland, which is bustling around without authorization, trying to create facts in order to surprise the executive floor in the headquarters.

The sports branch had actually given itself the green light to develop a World Rally Car with the introduction of new rally regulations in January 2011. Managing Director Yoshiaki Kinoshita himself worked on the Corolla WRC, the last car with which the world's largest car company won a title before winning the World Sports Car Championship.

That was 1999, and when you dust, Mud and snow turned their back on Formula 1 for the new millennium, a large part of the workforce had a lump in their throats. The company in the Marsdorf district of Cologne was once born as Ove Andersson Motorsport GmbH and from the very first in 1973 it was a company that breathed rally air. The team won the prestigious safari rally seven times in the 80s and 90s. With the first of three Monte Carlo victories in 1991, Lancia broke its six-year dominance and set the pace for rally sport itself.

Semi-automatic steering wheel shifts, active differentials, test procedures, quality assurance - the Andersson team set standards. The Cologne team won three brand world championships and four drivers' titles. In Formula 1 they won nothing in eight years, and also the desperate wishTo finally win at Le Mans has not yet been fulfilled. Those who still knew of the old days longed for coarse cleats and underride guards. And sport longed for a company with a big name and a long tradition, especially in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the abandonment of Subaru and the years of starvation with only two manufacturers.

Back to rally technology

A childhood dream came true for Emanuele Battisti when in 2011 he was asked to do a few thoughts and calculations about a WRC. Dad was once a co-driver, he himself grew up on Italian rally tracks. The trained engineer had hired the Formula 1 team in Cologne after having pulled his beloved chair away from under his bum twice in half a decade when the factory activities of Hyundai and Subaru had ended.

At the end of the year, the new employer also buried the Formula 1 project. But then fate turned: Battisti survived the massive wave of layoffs, and suddenly he got his own garden and kept himself up to date at meetings of the FIA's technical working group. With a handful of engineers, he began designing a Yaris in early 2012; another base car was out of the question given the rules that dictate small 1.6-liter engines. In addition, the Yaris is the Group's best-selling model in Europe.

The small group had a pure racing engine based on the global race engine concept on the test bench at the end of 2011. The biggest problem was accommodating the four-cylinder with turbocharger and cooling system in the narrow engine compartment. The competition from the VW Polo to the Citroën DS3 also drives small cars from the B segment, but the Yaris is the smallest car compared to its future competitors.

'Fortunately, we have a long wheelbase,' says Battisti. The same is important for stable driving behavior, for center of gravity and balance. The design was finished in mid-2013, and testing was carried out for the first time in Tuscany in February 2014. At the wheel sat the Italian Vittorio Caneva, who has been running a rally school for decades, and Sebastian Lindholm, eight-time Finnish champion and an experienced development and test driver. All-rounder Stéphane Sarrazin from the Le Mans project later joined the rally test team.

The branch in Cologne theoretically has everything that is needed to tackle any type of motor sport, but no service trucks , and so Battisti hired the Motorsport Italia team for test work. Bruno di Pianta's squad had recently gained experience with WRC cars in the World Championship through the mini project. The engineers went to Europe for tests half a dozen times with the Italian team in 2014, and suddenly photos and videos were found on the Internet.

The liaison with Motorsport Italia was inexpensive, and TMG didto earn money as a profit center in accordance with the company's philosophy. The two high-tech wind tunnels are regularly rented out to the Formula 1 teams. This is how money comes in. The rally theme was originally born as a customer sport idea.

Mandatory corset regulations

Despite the tight budget The second design phase began in autumn 2014 with the experience gained. With the current rally rules, a good engineer can't go wrong. There are too many restrictions. But it's also hard to be smarter than others. You experiment with the motor control in order to gain small advantages. Project manager Battisti is a chassis specialist. He looked for a shock absorber manufacturer as a partner, but it has not yet been decided whether you will ultimately choose your own solution. There is still time, the entry is not planned until 2017, when the new regulations are in place. Battisti reckons that he will have to rebuild up to 75 percent of his baby, and that would be very nice. 'The WRC rules have gone from one extreme to the other. I understand that there were good reasons for this because of the cost, but at least for an engineer this is frustrating.'

Although corporate headquarters are pioneering When it comes to alternative drives, the demand for hybrid technology in rally cars has never been an issue. 'We did the math, it would just be too expensive.' Not least because the technology works halfway on a perfectly flat Formula 1 track, but the ride over hill and dale or, in the worst case, against a tree is unknown territory.

Battisti and Technical Director Pascal Vasselon try that FIA and the other WRC manufacturers are encouraging more freedom of movement when designing the new set of rules in other areas such as aerodynamics, chassis or power transmission. The problem: Because the newcomers are not registered, they have no voting rights. 'We believe that there are ways to allow more without the costs getting completely out of hand,' vasselon swears.

It is important to him that he is right if the worst comes to the worst, because it lies in his own interest. The days when Japan spent every amount of money in rally sport or in Formula 1 that was necessary for success are long gone. Although many experts complain that you would have achieved the long-awaited Le Mans victory in 2014 if you had had a third car in the race, it will remain a two-car race in 2015. There is not enough money. 'It will be the same with the rally project. We will compete with a fraction of the budget that others use, and we will not be able to afford a current top driver.'

Battisti calculates: '50 percent Success in rallying today is all about the driver, so with almost the same technique, the best driver always wins in the end. ' In an emergency you started your ownCasting program. Junior world champions Stéphane Lefebvre and Pontus Tidemand were there as well as Peugeot works driver Kevin Abbring. Ultimately, the decision was made for the Frenchman Eric Camilli and the Finn Teemu Suninen. 'We checked them against 60 different parameters, we took the ones that had the greatest potential,' says Vasselon. That is part of the truth, the other is that the first three mentioned also had other opportunities that could be realized more quickly. Lefebvre is hoping for a cockpit at Citroën, Tidemand has signed with Skoda, Abbring has been part of the Hyundai factory team since February.

The chosen ones are largely blank slates, are considered talented - but above all they cost little . The World Championship returnees partially finance Suninen for a season in the Junior World Championship and subsidize Camilli's entry into WRC2 so that the youngsters can gain experience. It is speculated that Andreas Mikkelsen, who will theoretically become vacant at VW at the end of 2015, would be an option. 'We have to be modest,' warns Vasselon, but by that he means above all the expectations of the public.

First of all, you have to prove that you are competitive, says Vasselon. Sebastian Lindholm confirms that the Yaris has great potential, but has not been able to compare it to the current WRC for years. The team will continue to collect kilometers testing in 2015 and 2016. After the basic set-up, there are now special disciplines. Lindholm completed a snow test in Sweden in February, the next thing on the program is the flight behavior in Finland.

Screwdrivers are practicing on other makes

The mechanics are sometimes wanted to get used to the current junior teams to work on the Citroën DS3 or Ford Fiesta R5. In 2016, the almost finished Yaris WRC will then start as a pre-car in some World Championship races to allow the team that has been set up up to that point to rehearse. Vasselon has so far ruled out some races in competition as early as 2016, as was customary in the past. A car built according to the 2017 rules would not even be allowed to compete in the coming year, and you would then put the cards on the table early on when it comes to homologation.

But it was all just gray theory, a business game as long as it was the big corporation hesitated. How does it feel to work on a project for four years without knowing whether the car will go straight to the museum?

'Oh,' says Emanuele Battisti, 'when you go green with this company Wait for the light, nothing happens here. You have to get started, and the appetite comes quickly when the food is on the table. ' The Italian has been able to breathe a sigh of relief since January 2015. Then came the call from the president asking that one of the two previously completed chassis be sent to Japan. Of course, Akio Toyoda first drove the Yaris WRC himself before adding it to the boardpresented. The official announced on January 30th that Toyota will return to the World Rally Championship in 2017. The rally community could hear a sigh of relief from Paris to Jyväskylä. The World Cup marketer Red Bull Media House sent a euphoric welcome message on the same day, and all conspiracy stories and reservations came to an end.

Vasselon has to laugh: 'It's a small world. Nowhere is the rumor mill simmering like that in rallying. ' Well, with the return of the world's largest automaker to its sporting roots, there is a prospect that this little cosmos will get a little bigger again from January 2017.

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