OH WHAT A FEELING: Akio Toyoda and Tommi Mäkinen make their top-secret run through the Wedding Bells stage last September.
OH WHAT A FEELING: Akio Toyoda and Tommi Mäkinen make their top-secret run through the Wedding Bells stage last September. Toyota Motor Corporation

Test drive on Coffs roads sees Toyota plan a WRC return

A SECRET test drive at the 2014 WRC event on the Coffs Coast in September by the president of Toyota Motor Corporation appears to be the catalyst for that company's decision to return to international rallysport from 2017.

Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda ended months of speculation at a media conference in Tokyo on the weekend where the Yaris WRC car made its public debut.

Toyota becomes the fifth manufacturer in the WRC - which includes Coates Hire Rally Australia Coffs Coast on its 13-round annual calendar - joining Volkswagen, Hyundai, Citroen and Ford, which is represented by an independent team.

However, Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford has revealed Toyoda San, who dabbles in the sport as an amateur racer, visited the Coffs Coast rally in secrecy and took the wheel of a rally-prepared Toyota 86 for a test run through the Wedding Bells stage.

It followed a visit made to northern Europe in August where the Japanese businessman completed a section of the Rally Finland course.

His co-driver on both occasions was four-time world champion driver Tommi Mäkinen, of Finland.

Rally Australia's Ben Rainsford hailed the announcement.

"Toyota has been one of the most successful makes and long-term supporters in Australian rallying," he said.

"Even today, there's a big popular following for the classic 1980 Toyota Celica world rally car of Neal Bates.

"Last September we were proud to facilitate a private experience on our Wedding Bells stage for Akio Toyoda and Tommi Mäkinen.

"So perhaps in a very small way we have helped pave the way for this news."

On the WRC sidelines since 1999, Toyota will run its new program from the established base in Cologne, Germany, and has hired French drivers Stephane Sarazin and Eric Camilli to develop the 1.6 litre Yaris over the next two seasons.

In its heyday, the Toyota team run by Neal Bates took six drivers titles between 1993 and 2008.