May 15, 2017

TOYOTA DRIVER SET FOR "RALLY OF HIS LIFE"

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Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala (pictured) heads a three-car line-up for Rally de Portugal.
Toyota is bringing an expanded three-car line-up to this weekend's Rally de Portugal as part of its plan to accelerate development of its Yaris WRC in the World Rally Championship (WRC).

The move enables champion driver Esapekka Lappi to fulfil a life-long dream by competing for the first time at the top level of the WRC.

Lappi, the reigning WRC2 title-holder, will drive a third Yaris WRC which is making its WRC debut on Portugal's sandy and rocky roads where tyre selection is vital.

"It's obviously very exciting for me to be starting my first rally in the Yaris WRC: the opportunity I've been waiting for all of my life," the 26-year-old Finn said.

"But this is a team effort, and my role is to collect as much data as possible for the team to develop the car further. The most important thing is to finish: never easy at such a challenging event like Portugal."

Lappi will join teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen in the sixth-round action of the 2017 season.

Portugal is a happy hunting ground for the team with Latvala, who is second in the driver standings, winning the 2015 rally. Hänninen competed in 2014 on different roads while Lappi achieved his first WRC2 win in Portugal in 2013.

Rally legend Tommi Mäkinen, principal of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, said Portugal's tough and technical stages make it a classic event.

"We hope to make another step forward on gravel, improving the car step by step as we have been doing all year," he said.

Latvala said being second on the road could be an advantage as conditions might deteriorate throughout the rally.

"We tested a few things, trying out some dampers and also experimenting with the ride height, so that we can perform to the maximum of our potential in rough conditions as well," he said.

The rally, around Porto in northern Portugal, begins on Thursday evening (Portugal time) and concludes on Sunday after 19 stages of competition covering 349.17km.

Toyota motorsport: In 2017, Toyota marks the 60th anniversary of its first international motorsport entry (and the first by a Japanese car manufacturer), when it contested the 1957 Round Australia Trial. This is why many people consider Australia to be the birthplace of Toyota motorsport. Today, Toyota contests the FIA-sanctioned World Rally Championship (WRC), World Endurance Championship (WEC) which features the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the gruelling Dakar Rally. Closer to home, the Toyota 86 Racing Series seeks to develop the talent of tomorrow as Australia's premier grassroots circuit-racing category.