Juho Hänninen has signed a one-year contract to head Toyota’s return to the FIA World Rally Championship next season with a Yaris World Rally Car.The 35-year-old Finn has conducted the lion’s share of testing ahead of the Japanese manufacturer’s return after a 16-year absence. He has completed the recce at every round this season and his confirmation comes as no surprise.
Hänninen will be co-driven by the experienced Kaj Lindström, who formerly partnered Toyota team principal and four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen. The pair will contest all rounds of the 2017 championship, with an option to extend the deal beyond next year.
“This really feels like a dream come true,” said Hänninen. “Joining a works team with such potential for a full season is a real opportunity for me.
“We have been working together since the car’s first outing, so that makes it all the more exciting and motivating. The Yaris WRC is incredible. I can’t wait to get started at the Rallye Monte-Carlo.”
Hänninen enjoyed several successful seasons with Skoda. He won the Intercontinental Rally Challenge title in 2010 and the SWRC crown the following season, before lifting the European title in 2012.
He was heavily involved in the development of Hyundai’s i20 as the Korean manufacturer returned to the WRC in 2014. He drove in six rallies with the team before leaving at the end of the year.
Mäkinen emphasised that 2017 would be a learning year and said Hänninen’s testing experience made him an obvious choice.
“When he joined the team, Juho was incredibly motivated and involved. He also understood very clearly that we didn’t want to cut any corners and that the 2017 season would be about coming to grips with the championship and learning,” he said.
“He has quite a lot of experience in World Rally Championship, and I’m sure that because he has developed the Yaris WRC from the beginning, he knows the car best.”
Toyota is expected to confirm a second driver following the final round of the 2016 season in Australia next month. WRC 2 frontrunner Esapekka Lappi is widely predicted to get the nod