► All-new hybrid cars for 2022
► Season starts this weekend in Monte Carlo
► New rules put extra pressure on drivers
It’s not just the 2022 World Rally Championship that starts this weekend in Monte Carlo – it’s a whole new era for top-flight rallying. The last-generation cars that finished the 2021 season just eight weeks ago have been junked and replaced by new cars built to ‘Rally1’ rules.
That involves all the cars being hybrids, with a shared battery and motor-generator unit. They have more power – approaching 500bhp – but less suspension travel, simpler aerodynamics and gearshifting without hydraulic assistance.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala says: ‘There are so many unknowns. The timeframe was very tight. We were in a hurry to make the car and do some testing. People have been working hard over Christmas, over the weekends. You can see the tiredness now.
‘There’s nothing more we could have done. Of course we don’t know the level of the others. We just have to trust what we’ve done.
‘It’s the very first time competing with the hybrid. There’s a lot of excitement to see that everything works.
‘I believe the cars will be quite close. The results will be made by the drivers who get used to the new regulations quickest.’
Runners and riders
As with last season, the top class will be contested by Toyota, Hyundai and Ford. The Yaris and i20N keep the same names and loose connection to the road cars, while Ford has jumped from Fiesta to Puma, but all three cars are effectively all new.
Many of the drivers are familiar, but reigning champion Sébastien Ogier is only intending to do part of the season in his Toyota. Similarly, nine-times world champion Sébastien Loeb is not intending to compete in every round in his Puma.
Last year’s runner-up, Elfyn Evans, is hotly tipped for the title this year. But his Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä – who became the youngest rally winner in WRC history last year – will have something to say about that. And you can never rule out Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak.
It’s tough at the top
Last year’s success for Toyota not only in WRC but also in retaining the World Endurance Championship and winning the Dakar again means extra pressure for Latvala.
He says: ‘We won the season 2021, we won everything. When you win everything of course there are more expectations that you should be able to repeat the same. Yes, we have more pressure. It’s going to be more difficult to do what we did last year. But always in the sport there is pressure and you just have to live with it.’
Would he like to see more manufacturers competing in WRC?
‘The level of the cars is, I think, going to be closer. If all the teams have cars which are capable of winning, that’s what I hope for the championship. The idea is that the teams would be close, competition would be hard and tight. I think that would help other manufacturers to get interested and come into the sport.’
What of the now rather tenuous connection with the GR Yaris road car, which seems a long way removed from the hybrid Yaris Rally1?
‘We still want to try to connect the GR Yaris and the World Rally car, we try to learn from the WRC and develop better road cars. For us at Toyota, the connection is very important.’