Northern Irish rally star Kris Meeke will join the Toyota squad full-time for the World Rally Championship next year.
The career of the 39-year-old from Dungannon has been uncertain since he was dropped by Citroën earlier this year, with the French squad releasing an extraordinary statement citing his “excessively high number of crashes".
But Meeke, a winner of five WRC events, has secured a top drive with Toyota, which currently leads the manufacturers’ championship.
Meeke will drive a works Yaris WRC, alongside title contender Ott Tanak and Jari-Matti Latvala. Meeke is known as one of the fastest drivers in the WRC – which has led to a number of accidents - and is also highly regarded for his skills as a test and development driver.
“The performance of the Yaris WRC speaks for itself, but the team spirit here is incredible at every level, along with the Japanese culture of honour and respect,” said Meeke, who held talks with Toyota several years ago before signing for Citroën.
Meeke also noted that he claimed his first rally championship – as his brother’s co-driver on road rallies – in a Toyota Corolla.
Toyota chairman Akio Toyota issued a statement with a message to Meeke, saying: “I have great hopes that with your vast experience you will help make the Yaris WRC even better. Under the leadership of team principal Tommi Makinen, we will ensure the Yaris WRC can be driven with even greater peace of mind. I trust you will look forward to the start of next season with great excitement.”
Rising Finnish star Esapekka Lappi, who has driven for Toyota for the past two seasons, will switch to Citroën next season. He will join five-time World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier, who will switch from the Cumbrian-based M-Sport privateer Ford team.