A legend of the rally stage in the 1990s, Mäkinen won the World Rally Championship for Mitsubishi four years in a row from '96 through '99. That makes him the '90s rally equivalent of Sebastien Vettel at Red Bull, and one of the most successful rally drivers of all time, winning an impressive 24 top-level rallies in his carrier that spanned from 1987 to 2003. His achievements were immortalized with the production of the Tommi Mäkinen edition of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI, which remains an enthusiast favorite and an icon of its time.
Mäkinen has since lent his expertise as a team leader and coach, setting up Subarus for Group N competition, and instructing (among others) Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda on how to get the most out of the GT86 rally car he built for him. The two evidently established a close bond in the process, and will continue working together as Toyoda will serve as the team's chairman and Mäkinen its principal on the ground.
The Japanese manufacturer is set to return to the WRC in 2017 with a new Yaris-based rally car. It's being run as part of the realigned Toyota Gazoo Racing department, and would appear to have nothing to do with Toyota Motorsport GmbH – the European racing outfit that handled the company's last WRC campaign, its F1 program, and its current prototype endurance racing effort.
Toyota City, Japan, July 7, 2015―Toyota GAZOO Racing has determined its team structure leading up to Toyota's return to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2017.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda will serve as team chairman while Tommi Mäkinen*, a celebrated WRC veteran, will be offering his expertise as team principal. With comprehensive oversight from Mäkinen, who holds four drivers' titles over his 18-year WRC career, the team will strengthen its vehicle development capabilities and work toward 2017.
Whenever I'm behind the wheel, I always think: "it is the road that makes the car."
For Toyota to make ever-better cars, we have to get a feel for all the kinds of roads that are out there.
Rallying requires us to drive on the very roads our customers use every single day, and I believe it is the perfect training activity, ultimately helping us to strengthen our products.
As the pinnacle of rallying, WRC is the best way to experience roads all over the world―that's why Toyota is returning to the championship. And I am very happy and excited to have Tommi Mäkinen heading up our WRC team.
I first met Tommi in 2013. At that time he was my instructor, helping me improve my driving technique. In the end, he taught me a lot more; he showed me the appeal of rallying and the relationship between vehicle development and rallying.
Tommi has abundant experience and fresh ideas for vehicle development, both of which will be valuable assets to us. After talking to Tommi, I felt: "I want to work with him; I want him to help us make better cars," and that's how I came to ask for his support with this project. With Tommi behind us, Toyota will forge ahead with our return to WRC and also our efforts to make ever-better cars.
Rallying allows both participants and spectators to feel the enjoyment of cars, and it encourages car manufacturers to hone their skills. We have been away from WRC for a long time as a manufacturer. I have huge respect for the manufacturers, drivers, team members, and fans that make this wonderful competition what it is, and I'm thrilled to bring Toyota back to WRC. Please join me in supporting Toyota GAZOO Racing.
*Over an 18-year career spanning from 1985 to 2003, Tommi Mäkinen, won 24 WRC rallies. During his career at Mitsubishi, accomplished a remarkable four consecutive WRC drivers' titles (1996 to 1999). He also achieved impressive results after moving to Subaru World Rally team in 2002, prior to his retirement from WRC the following year.