With a driver from the formerly dominant and now nonexistent Volkswagen team behind the wheel, Toyota just won its first FIA World Rally Championship event since the manufacturer last competed in 1999. That’s right, Toyota hasn’t raced WRC since the year SpongeBob SquarePants premiered.
It only took two events for Toyota to be back atop the podium after its return, and the manufacturer did so at the wild Rally Sweden over the weekend. Jari-Matti Latvala won the rally for Toyota, just three months after his former Volkswagen WRC team announced that it would withdraw from the series to “focus all [of its] efforts on important future technologies.” That came more than a year after Volkswagen’s extremely costly Dieselgate emissions scandal began, so come to your own conclusions about the manufacturer’s “focus.”
After factory driver Andreas Mikkelsen won Volkswagen’s final WRC race for the time being, the manufacturer’s withdrawal following the 2016 race season left Latvala, Mikkelsen and Sébastien Ogier, who’s won the last four WRC titles, without rides. Latvala landed in a new Toyota Yaris, Ogier at Ford and Mikkelsen remains in limbo for a consistent ride.
Latvala won Rally Sweden by nearly 30 seconds over second-place Ott Tänak on Sunday, and Ogier claimed third by about a minute behind Latvala. The win gave Latvala the championship lead, and Autoweek reports that it’s the first time any driver besides Ogier has led the points since February 2014. That’s a long time.
So, in two rallies since its official return, Toyota has won already won a race and put itself on top of the points standings. It sounds like these folks are serious.