22 August 2022
Toyota President Akio Toyoda, aka “Morizo” drove the GR Yaris H2―a special hydrogen-engine version of the Toyota GR Yaris―in a demonstration run during Rally Belgium, the ninth round of the World Rally Championship (WRC). It was the first time Toyota had shown an under-development hydrogen-engine vehicle on public roads outside Japan.
Joining President Toyoda as co-driver* was Finnish rallying legend Juha Kankkunen, who won his fourth WRC title with Toyota in 1993. The GR Yaris H2 served as a test car on special stage 11, (20 August) running ahead of the safety car to confirm safe conditions along nine miles of narrow farm roads. Even though Morizo had never driven on those roads nor had a chance to survey them before he began his run, Kankkunen’s guidance, allowed him to tackle the extremely slippery and changing road surfaces without incident.
After the run he said: “I am grateful to Juha for his courtesy in allowing me to drive. He guided me in sync with my driving, making me feel comfortable. The roads were tough―not only slippery but also narrow, and their surfaces seemed to change from moment to moment. They were like the roads used in Rally Japan, and it was a good chance to think about races with spectators in mind. We also had a (Toyota) Mirai (fuel cell electric vehicle) at the venue demonstrating external power supply, and I believe that, together with driving using a hydrogen engine, we were able to highlight in Europe the potential of hydrogen as an option for achieving carbon neutrality.”
His co-pilot Kankkunen added: “Akio’s driving was great. And the hydrogen engine put out solid torque, making it no different from a gasoline engine. Because they emit zero CO2, I believe hydrogen engines will become one of the options for achieving carbon neutrality not only in the world of motorsports but also in the world of everyday cars.”
For the rest of the drivers participating in the Rally, the farmland roads of the West Flanders region lived up to their reputation as one of rallying’s most demanding asphalt tests with frequent surface changes and little margin for error. The Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team achieved another double podium finish as Elfyn Evans finished just five seconds away from victory in second position, with Esapekka Lappi in third.
Kalle Rovanperä was one of many drivers to be caught out when he rolled his car on Friday: the first significant setback in what has been an outstanding season so far from the young Finn. An extensive rebuild by the team’s technicians allowed Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen to return under restart rules the next day and target points in the rally-ending Power Stage. There they set the fastest time to leave Belgium with a commanding 72-poin championship lead with four rounds remaining.
Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin took over the lead when Rovanperä dropped out, but a slow puncture and a 10-second penalty meant they ended Friday third overall. Having fought back on Saturday and gained second overall, Evans continued to close the gap to the leader Ott Tänak with two stage wins on the final morning, but just fell short by the rally’s end.
Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm scored their third podium from six starts with a consistent and clean performance. The result ensures TGR still have a strong lead of 88 points in the manufacturers’ championship.
Takamoto Katsuta recovered from an issue on Friday morning to finish fifth in his TGR WRT Next Generation entry with co-driver Aaron Johnston. He is now the only driver to have finished every rally in the top 10 this season.