Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda ended months of speculation when he made the announcement during a press conference in Tokyo, at which the Yaris WRC made its public debut in a launch livery.
The programme will be handled by Toyota Motorsport (TMG) in Cologne, Germany, which has already completed a preliminary test programme in Europe with the Yaris WRC on asphalt and gravel.
Frenchman Eric Camilli, who drove a Ford Fiesta R5 in WRC 2 at Rallye Monte-Carlo, has been selected as the first member of Toyota’s junior driver development scheme.
The 27-year-old will carry out the test programme alongside former Subaru driver Stéphane Sarrazin, now a racer in Toyota’s FIA World Endurance Championship squad, and eight-time Finnish champion Sebastian Lindholm.
Toyoda said his visit to last season’s Neste Oil Rally Finland impressed him.
During my time there many rally fans asked me when Toyota would come back to WRC. People talked about Toyota’s history in WRC, and I was filled with surprise and gratitude that so many people remembered.
“Last time we competed was in 1999. That makes me think we are not announcing a return, but perhaps a start. We must begin again from scratch and carefully prepare both team and cars,” he said.
The current Yaris WRC complies with existing regulations, but changes are expected when updated technical rules are introduced to WRC in 2017.
Toyota won four drivers’ and three manufacturers’ world titles in the 1990s with legendary drivers such as Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen.
Toyota’s return was welcomed by WRC Promoter’s managing director, Oliver Ciesla.
“Toyota has a long and distinguished history in motorsport, particularly in world rallying, and we’re delighted to welcome one of the automobile industry’s giants back to WRC,” he said.
Here are key facts about Toyota’s WRC history so far:
1973: Walter Boyce secures Toyota’s first victory, driving an Andersson Motorsport-prepared Corolla on the Press On Regardless Rally in the USA.
1975: TTE’s first victory comes at Finland’s 1000 Lakes Rally with future champion Hannu Mikkola driving a Corolla Levin.
1984: First win on the Safari Rally of Kenya with Björn Waldegard driving a Celica Twincam Turbo. It is the first of a hat-trick of Safari wins for Toyota and drivers Waldegard and Juha Kankkunen between 1984 and 1986.
1988: Introduction of the 4WD Celica GT Four, which would go on to win 29 WRC rallies and six World Championships titles (two Manufacturers’ and four Drivers’) in its ST165, ST185 and ST205 guises.
1989: Manufacturers’ Championship runners up. Carlos Sainz makes his Toyota debut, taking three podiums from seven starts.
1990: Sainz becomes Toyota’s first Drivers’ World Champion at the wheel of a Celica GT-Four (ST165). Toyota is runner-up in the Manufacturers’ contest.
1992: Sainz takes his second Drivers’ title driving a Celica GT-Four ST185. Toyota is again runner-up in the Manufacturers’ contest.
1993: With seven victories, Toyota becomes the first Japanese firm to win the WRC Manufacturers’ title. Kankkunen adds the Drivers’ crown.
1994: Toyota wins the Manufacturers’ title again, with Didier Auriol taking the Drivers’ crown. TTE is renamed Toyota Motorsport GmbH (TMG) after Toyota Motor Corporation takes ownership.
1995: Third in Manufacturers’ Championship but later disqualified. Banned for 12 months for fitting an illegal system that unlocked engine power by allowing air to bypass the air restrictor on the turbo. “It’s the most ingenious thing I have seen in 30 years of motorsport,” admitted FIA President Max Mosley.
1996/7: Maintains a presence in the WRC by supporting private teams.
1998: Returns to the WRC with the Celica’s replacement, the Corolla World Rally Car and driver line-up of Sainz and Auriol. Second in both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships.
1999: Manufacturers’ Champions for the third time. Announces withdrawal from the WRC to prepare for a switch to Formula One in 2002.
2015: Announces it will return to the WRC in 2017 with a Yaris World Rally Car.