The Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team is ready to face a new challenge as they get set to tackle the third round of the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship in Croatia.
Leading both the drivers and manufacturers championships after two rounds, the squad are looking to continue the recent good form the Yaris WRC has shown on asphalt. WRC Rally Croatia will be the first fully asphalt round since 2019.
The team will once again enter four Yaris’ in Croatia, with Kalle Rovenpera going to Croatia as the youngest ever leader of the World Rally Championship. His team mate Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans lie in 3rd & 4th in the championship, just eight points adrift. Takamoto Katsuta will be in the fourth car as part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program.
Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala was looking forward to what he said would be an interesting event, but was eager to point out the team have left no stone unturned with a detailed pre event test, despite the teams car being strong on asphalt.
“It is very interesting to be going to Croatia for the first time with the WRC, for what looks to be quite a fast asphalt rally. The surface appears to be generally quite abrasive but we understand that in some places it can also be very slippery, so it could be really challenging for the drivers.
“Normally the Yaris WRC has been very strong on asphalt, as we have seen in Monza and Monte Carlo recently, but we also know that we cannot take anything for granted and that we need to work hard to be successful. We have done six days of testing in Croatia, trying to use roads that are as similar as possible to what we are expecting to find on the rally.
“Of course, we know the car well now and it is not so easy to keep making big steps with the setup, so our main focus has been on how to get the best out of the new Pirelli tyres.”
Despite leading the championship, Rovenpera is obviously very happy with his start to the season but is not not feeling any pressure, aware that there is plenty of work to be done ahead of a long season.
“I’m really happy with how the has season has started for me and hopefully we can carry on the same way. I’m not feeling any pressure even though I’m leading the championship: It’s only been two rallies and we have a long season ahead. For sure it’s nice to be in this position but we have to work hard to try to stay in the fight.
“I’m excited for Croatia: It will be the first time for me on a proper asphalt event with the Yaris, as so far I’ve only had events with winter conditions like Monza and Monte Carlo. I’m hoping that we can have dry weather like we did on the test. The stages look really nice, but if it’s raining, I think there will be a lot of mud on the road and that will be tricky.”
Welshman Elfyn Evans will be looking to get back on the podium after taking a fifth place last time out on Arctic Rally Finland, unable to repeat his winter rally victory from Rally Sweden in 2020. Whilst he has prepared as best as he can for this new event, he says nothing can match being there in person.
“Croatia is an all-new event so we don’t know exactly what to expect. We’ve been able to study videos of the stages to learn as much as we can, but nothing can substitute actually being there on the recce and seeing the route for real. The stages look quite mixed, with some wide fast parts and some very narrow bumpy parts, and there could be quite a lot of cutting.
“So it looks like we need to be quite adaptable to the different surfaces and different character of stages that we’ll face. We don’t have masses of experience with this car on dry asphalt or with the Pirelli tyres, so in testing we were trying quite a few different settings. But the feeling in the car was generally positive straight away from the first runs.”
Reigning champion Sebastien Ogier will be even more eager than his team mate to return to the podium in Croatia after a below par Arctic Rally Finland. The Frenchman scored just a single point on the Wolf Power Stage, a complete contrast to the 30 points taken for a perfect rally and power stage win in Monte Carlo.
“Croatia will be a new rally and I’m excited to still discover new things in this sport at this point in my career. It has been a long time since we had a full asphalt rally like this one, and the Yaris is a great car to drive on asphalt, so I’m sure it will be fun.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the roads could be quite challenging, maybe a bit dirty and narrow in places, so I’m sure there will be plenty of action ahead of us. The pre-event test was very important because we have new tyres this season and this was the first chance to drive the slick tyres on dry asphalt.
“I did a lot of runs, trying all of the different combinations of tyres and trying to be ready to make the best choices during the rally.”