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Toyota starts World Rally Championship testing

Toyota will start testing its 2017 Yaris WRC car this month in preparation for next year’s return to the World Rally Championship.

The team last contested the series in 1999 and is returning to the WRC with a team run by four times World Champion Tommi Mäkinen.

Initially the team is being based at Puuppola in Finland where Mäkinen has run his own business since retiring as a driver. But it is also considering the possibility of relocating elsewhere to ease the logistics of competing in the global series.

The Cologne based Toyota Motorsport Gmbh, which runs Toyota’s Sportscar World Endurance Championship programme will be responsible for the development of the Yaris’ 1.6 litre turbocharged engine for the rally campaign.

The company did build and test a Yaris to the current technical regulations, using retired driver Mikko Hirvonen and Stephane Sarrazin, one of its WEC drivers for the initial testing.

Makinen’s company, with its greater rally experience has been contracted to put the rally campaign in place, having already developed a rally version of the 86 sports coupe and successfully campaigned cars in the PCWRC in previous years.

Jarmo Lehtinen, Hirvonen’s former co-driver brings experience as sporting director and Lauri Riipinen, who worked with Mäkinen from 2005 to 2013, is operations director.

Michael Zotos, Mäkinen's rally engineer when he drove for Subaru, is confirmed as technical director, and Simon Carrier, who headed the Ford Focus RS design team at M-Sport, is chief designer. Tom Fowler, Hirvonen's engineer at Ford, is chief of engineering and Mikko Ruoho, a Tommi Mäkinen Racing engineer since 2007, is chief of electronics.

The team will enter at least two and possibly three cars in the 2017 World Rally Championship and negotiations have already started with potential drivers.

Toyota has also signed 27 year old Frenchman Eric Camilli and 22 year old Finn Teemu Suminen to its junior driver development programme. Camilli is contesting the WRC this year to gain experience of the events.