Toyota Australia has marked the brand's return season to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) by signing on as a leading sponsor of this year's final round, Rally Australia in November. The local deal positions Toyota as the exclusive provider of official vehicles for the "lucky" 13th round of this year's championship to be based around Coffs Harbour from November 16-19.
Signing of the agreement comes at the mid-point of a season that has been marked by the successful development of the new Toyota Yaris WRC in tough rally conditions that have included snow and ice as well as rocky gravel surfaces.
Toyota Australia's executive director sales and marketing Tony Cramb said the company is keen to support Rally Australia, which will feature the Toyota Gazoo Racing world rally team and well-known local Toyota drivers.
"Toyota's commitment to rallying comes from the very top with our global president Akio Toyoda firmly believing that overcoming the extreme challenges of motorsport is vital in our quest to build ever-better cars," Cramb said.
"There is a strong bond between Toyota and rallying going back to the 1970s with four WRC drivers' and three WRC manufacturers' titles at the global level," he said. "We are also proud of our relationship with four-time Australian rally champions Neal Bates and Coral Taylor - a 25-year relationship during which time Toyota has also won two local manufacturers' titles. We expect to see the Bates clan - including Neal's sons Harry and Lewis - competing at their usual high standard during this year's event."
Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford welcomed Toyota Australia as a major event partner.
"As Rally Australia in 2017 celebrates its 25th year as a WRC event, it's wonderful to welcome a partner with its own great rally history. Toyota's name is synonymous with the sport, especially here in Australia," Rainsford said. "And while the Toyota Gazoo Racing world rally team will be drawing fans to spectate on the special stages in November, Toyota's range of road vehicles also will be in action, serving our event in many demanding official roles."
Kennards Hire Rally Australia will mark the completion of the first year of Toyota's return to the premier category of world rallying after a 17-year break. Led by four-time WRC champion Tommi Mäkinen, the Toyota Gazoo Racing world rally team has developed the Yaris WRC in tandem with Toyota Motorsport GmbH in Cologne, Germany.
The car features a 1.6-litre turbo-charged, direct-injection engine that produces more than 279kW, while advanced simulation, testing and production techniques have shaped the Yaris chassis. In this year's title race, Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala has driven the Yaris WRC to victory in the snow and ice of Sweden while adding second place in the season-opening Monte Carlo rally and last month in Sardinia.
Latvala is third in the driver's championship with five rounds remaining, including Rally Australia. The team's other drivers are Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi, who has burst onto the scene by scoring points in his first two rallies.
Toyota's WRC heritage includes famous cars like the Celica Twin-Cam Turbo and GT-Four variants and the Corolla WRC with legendary drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol.
Bates and Taylor - in addition to their ARC victories in 1993-95 and 2008 - have won three Australian Classic Rally Championships and Targa Tasmania. They have also competed in WRC events for Toyota Team Europe.
Australia hosted the WRC from Perth in 1989 to 2006 and from NSW since 2009 with this year's event being the sixth Rally Australia on gravel shire and forestry roads around Coffs Harbour.