Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanpera, 22 years old, has become the youngest ever winner of a World Rally Championship  (WRC) title after winning Rally New Zealand. Driving for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team with co-driver Jonne Halttunen, Rovanpera is only in his third season of rallying at the top tier of the sport.

The Finnish driver, who father also took part in the WRC before, is more than 5 years younger than the previous record-holder, Colin McRae, when he won the championship in 1995.


A year ago, the Toyota GAZOO RACING team won the Safari Rally Kenya, the Japanese carmaker’s  first on the gruelling African event since Yoshio Fujimoto/Arne Hertz won the 43rd Safari in 1995 in a Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD.

This year, doing even better than the 1-2 finish in the 2021 event, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing made a remarkable clean sweep of the top 4 positions with the GR YARIS Rally1 car. Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta joined winner Kalle Rovanpera on the podium, with Sebastien Ogier (last year‘s winner) in fourth. The next best-placed car finished 8½ minutes behind the Toyota quartet.

It was also a landmark 10th victory for Toyota on the famous African event, and the first time it has achieved a 1-2-3-4 finish in the WRC since the very same rally in 1993. Only once has any other manufacturer achieved the same feat in the championship in nearly three decades since.

In its second running since returning to the WRC calendar last year, the Safari delivered even tougher conditions, including deep ‘fesh-fesh’ sand on Friday and wet and muddy surfaces on Saturday in addition to the ever-present rocks and stones. It was by far the hardest challenge yet for the new generation of hybrid-powered Rally1 cars.

Rovanpera had an early scare when he ran wide on the very first corner on Thursday’s opening super special in Nairobi and knocked a tyre off its rim. But he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen ran faultlessly thereafter on the way to their fourth victory in 6 rounds, increasing their championship lead to 65 points.

Rovanpera actually never expected to win this rally. He arrived in Kenya with a commanding points lead and played down his glory hopes, instead starting with the mindset that any points from the championship’s roughest encounter would be a bonus. And despite feeling unwell, he strengthened his position on Saturday and thrived in waterlogged conditions as downpours derailed many of his rivals’ hopes. The sizeable 40.3-second margin he carried into Sunday’s finale was extended further by another 2 fastest times and the youngster ended the tough 4-day event in the lead of the Yaris quartet.

Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin also performed superbly and ran their team-mates close for the victory, remaining within 20 seconds of the lead until the rain hit on Saturday afternoon. They finished up 52.8 seconds away as they scored their second podium of the season.

Ogier, the 2021 event winner, led for most of Friday in the defence of his crown until he had to stop and change a tyre on the day’s final stage, losing over 2 minutes. He and co-driver Benjamin Veillas fought back to fourth overall and, with their team-mates focused on reaching their finish, set the third-fastest time in the rally-ending Power Stage to add to the team’s points haul from the weekend. Its Manufacturers’ championship lead has increased to 62 points.

The hotly-anticipated battle with compatriot Sebastien Loeb never materialised either, as the 9-time world champion retired his M-Sport Ford Puma with engine problems on Friday. Nevertheless, Ogier was able to bring home more solid points for Toyota during his part-time campaign.

Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville was over 10 minutes behind in fifth overall, despite incurring a 10-minute penalty when he crashed into a tree and failed to finish Saturday’s Sleeping Warrior finale. It was a weekend to forget for the Korean manufacturer, with Estonian Ott Tanak’s i20 N also sidelined by a broken propshaft on the penultimate leg and retiring for a second time with power steering failure on Sunday.

Craig Breen restarted after his early bath on Friday and ended as M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in sixth overall despite nursing suspension problems. Breen gained a position when Oliver Solberg stopped in the middle of the road with an air filter full of dust, causing the cancellation of Sunday’s opener. The young Swede eventually got going again but was plagued by a mechanical issue in the closing speed tests and dropped to 10th.

Competing in Africa for the first time, and having led from start to finish in a Skoda Fabia Rally2, Kajetan Kajetanowicz won the WRC2 class by the massive margin and topped off a perfect weekend by scoring maximum bonus points in the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage. He leapt from fifth in the standings to lead by 5 points after six of 13 rounds.

1. Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) 3:40:24.9 secs
2. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) +52.8 secs
3. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) +1 min 42.7 secs
4. Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) +2 mins 10.3 secs
5. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +10 mins 40.9 secs
6. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Puma Rally1) +23 mins 27.9 secs
7. Jourdan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (Ford Puma Rally1) +30 mins 16.5 secs
8. Sebastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (Ford Puma Rally1) +32 mins 12.6 secs
9. Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +35 mins 37.6 secs
10. Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +37 mins 36.6 secs

The story behind TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and why it was created

The Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 car, running a hybrid powertrain, scored its first win in Rally Sweden, the second round of 2022 World Rally Championship with Kalle Rovanpera at the wheel. It was the Finn’s third victory and added another WRC win to the Rovanpera family as his father had won the event 21 years ago in a Peugeot.

Rally Sweden is the WRC’s only snow event (and one of the fastest) and in the early stages, at least 5 drivers were in contention to win. For most of the rally, all three of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT’s drivers were in close fight for victory on the unfamiliar, high-speed, snow-covered roads (because of the new location nearer the Arctic Circle).

Rovanpera was disadvantaged to be first off the line as the highest-placed driver in the championship, and Ott Tanak of the Hyundai Motorsport team was able to take the opening stage win and build up a lead. However, the Toyota driver regained the initiative early on the second leg and then won the first of Sunday’s 4 stages to extend his lead which he held till the finish.

Hybrid powertrains have issues
Rovanpera’s team mate Elfan Evans was penalised 10 seconds overnight after an incident at the end of Saturday’s final stage, but his hopes of victory were ended in Sunday’s opener. Having started with the centrally-supplied hybrid system deactivated due to an issue, Evans then had a spin in the stage and damaged the front of the car. After stopping to make repairs he reached the end of the stage but, with the hybrid unit not showing the green light as required, was forced to retire in accordance with FIA safety procedures.

Rovanpera’s car also had hybrid issues as did Tanak’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car. While disappointing, this was not unexpected (especially in the extremely cold conditions) and Akio Toyoda, the boss of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, expressed a positive view. He said that they ‘gained precious data on how to improve the hybrid system in the harsh cold environment which he hopes can be used not only to win next year but also to provide data to suppliers in the quest to make ever better cars.

Rovanpera’s fellow Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi finished third to complete a double podium finish for the team on his first start for TGR since 2018. Lappi was in a close fight for second position throughout Sunday, ultimately finishing just 8.6 seconds away as he completed a fantastic comeback during the final day.

Solid drive by Ford’s Greensmith
M Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith with co-driver Jonas Andersson would see their confident and solid drive rewarded with a second consecutive fifth overall finish. The weekend had proven a challenge for the team, with Craig Breen retiring on Friday after getting stuck in a snowbank in the second half of SS2. Once free from the snow, the car was driven back to service where it was repaired for the Saturday stages.

The second day of competition would see Breen claim his first stage win as an M-Sport driver and simultaneously a first stage win for the Puma Rally1 Hybrid on snow and ice. However, further bad luck would see the car suffer an electrical issue, cutting power after a small bump. The crew would utilise the new hybrid technology to allow them to drive some of the stage in full Electric mode before pulling over to make bigger repairs.

Although they were able to find and fix the fault, they would be over their allotted time limit and forced to retire for the day. The final day would see Breen drive through the stages preserving his tyres for the all-important Power Stage where he would take a vital point to go towards his championship tally.

Hyundai team unsatisfied despite podium finish
The podium finish by Thierry Neuville was consolation for the Hyundai Motorsport team but they were far from satisfied with how things went. “There are not really many positives for us to take away,” said Tanak, who was forced to retire due to hybrid problems. “Overall, it has been a frustrating and disappointing weekend. On the plus side, we showed that we had the pace to be competitive.

“We know there is still work to be done, and improvements we need to make on the car, but we have shown we’re getting there. This is an important result, but we hope it’s just the start of our return to the top,” added the team’s deputy director, Julien Moncet.

Rovanpera leads in the Drivers Championship with 46 points, 14 points ahead of Neuville and 19 points ahead of Sebastien Loeb. The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team has collected a total of 83 points after two rounds, with M-Sport Ford 24 points behind, followed by the Hyundai Shell Mobis team 36 points behind the leader.

Round 3 of the WRC moves to Croatia on April 21 and hopefully, the conflict in Ukraine will have ended by then.

World Rally Championship organisers warn spectators of high-voltage dangers with hybrid rallycars


Follow us on Facebook

Follow us on YouTube