Jan 23, 2017 By Toyota Australia.

Toyota Yaris on its way to a podium finish in Monte Carlo.

Toyota Yaris on its way to a podium finish in Monte Carlo.

Toyota has returned to the World Rally Championship (WRC) with a fighting second place in the Rallye Monte-Carlo – more than 17 years after its last appearance in the premier category.

After a cautious start in icy and snowy conditions, Jari-Matti Latvala advanced his Yaris WRC to the second step of the podium as other fancied rivals struck trouble during the rally.

Toyota’s last WRC podium came at the penultimate round in Australia in 1999 with Carlos Sainz at the wheel.

Latvala’s teammate Juho Hänninen was placed third on the opening night of the four-day rally and was in podium contention until he slid off the road in icy and snowy conditions on day two. He recovered seven places to finish in 16th.

Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Tommi Mäkinen said the result – with Latvala just 2 min, 15 sec behind the rally winner – was beyond the team’s expectations.

“We didn’t have much experience, but our rally was nearly perfect: both crews reacted very well to the changing circumstances and they were able to set stage times in the top three, which is very encouraging,” he said.

Team vice-principal Koei Saga thanked fans who had been waiting 17 years for Toyota’s return to the WRC.

“It’s clear that we have good potential, but our competitors are very strong and we still have plenty of work to do to be regarded as their rivals in a real sense,” he said. “We’ll be doing our best to get there!”

Latvala said the conditions were difficult throughout the four-day Monte Carlo rally, the oldest and most prestigious round of the WRC.

“If you had told me before the start of the rally that this is where we would finish, I would never have believed it,” he said.