Toyota Gazoo Racing has confirmed that Jari-Matti Latvala will lead its driver line-up for the upcoming World Rally Championship (WRC) season after the team officially launched its 2017 program in Helsinki last week.
Latvala, who was left without a manufacturer seat when Volkswagen opted to withdraw from the series last month, joins compatriot Juho Hänninen – who was unveiled by the Japanese squad in October – in Toyota’s Yaris WRC. Both men will make their debuts in the car at January’s season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo on January 19-22 next year.
The Finland-based team, which is being led by four-time WRC title winner Tommi Mäkinen, has also announced that newly-crowned WRC 2 champion, Esapekka Lappi, has joined its ranks as test driver.
This afternoon’s official launch brings an end to months of speculation about which drivers will get the chance to lead the Japanese manufacturer’s assault on the WRC as it returns to competition action after a 17-year absence.
Latvala is pleased to secure his WRC future and is excited about the new challenge that lies ahead. “I started my rally career in a Toyota Corolla GT back in 2001 and my first competitive outing in a World Rally Car was behind the wheel of a Corolla WRC in 2003,” the 16-time WRC rally winner said. “In many ways it feels like I’m coming home.”
“I’m really happy to join the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC team from the very start and lead this new adventure with them. I feel lucky to be part of this story and I hope we will take a lot of victories in it,” he added.
Fello Finn, Lappi, who won the 2016 WRC 2 title at last month’s Kennards Hire Rally Australia, is relishing the chance to acquaint himself with a 2017-spec World Rally Car as he continues his development as a driver.
The 25-year-old said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my co-driver Janne Ferm. It’s a dream come true. We have both worked so hard over the years to get to this point and finally, it’s here. We’re excited and motivated about joining the team and we’re extremely grateful for this opportunity. I can’t wait to start our testing program with the Yaris WRC.”
Lappi, who is considered one of the WRC’s hottest young talents, is expected to drive a third Yaris WRC on selected events in 2017, although Toyota Gazoo Racing has yet to confirm when this will happen.