In the past few years, Mäkinen has become good friends with Toyota president Akio Toyoda, building him a one-off four-wheel-drive version of the GT86 – a car the pair took on a world tour to drive some of the best roads from Finland to Australia.
Toyoda, a keen amateur rally driver, is helping to guide Toyota back to the WRC. The decision was announced 12 months ago and the return itself comes in a year’s time.
The expectation was that Toyota would be back in Cologne. Clearly, Cologne thought that was the plan and went ahead with the research, development and build of its own Yaris World Rally Car. Since then, with rumour of developing discord between Toyota and TMG, it was less of a surprise when Cologne missed out on building the 2017 WRC car.
However, eyebrows were raised when central Finland was chosen instead. Mäkinen wasn’t surprised. Nothing surprises a man used to threading rally cars between the trees at 100mph.
Mäkinen may have retired from the WRC 12 years ago, but his disarming manner has changed little. He’s well known for deep consideration of every answer and almost every reply starts in the same way. “Good question…” he says, when asked why Toyota’s team is based in Finland.
Momentary pause and he’s in. “We talked a lot about where the team will be based and a lot of people have been talking about this as well. We have made the full investigation into the operation in terms of transport logistics and actually it was very different from what we thought; there is only a bit of extra cost in terms of time and money.”
The journey to Mäkinen’s base takes you through Jyvaskyla, hometown of Rally Finland, the 1000 Lakes – a genuine hero-maker of an event. It’s hard to argue with these roads. “We have,” says Mäkinen, “brilliant test conditions, which are right next door to the factory. We can design a part and fit it to the car and the next day we can be testing it on a fantastic road. I think this is very, very important.
The Puuppola lanes are far better for honing a WRC car than city suburbs in the middle of Germany. “We have no plans to move to Cologne,” he says. “TMG is working on the engine. We have people from TMR working with them in Cologne and everything is on target.”
That target is Monte Carlo this time next year – a daunting prospect for a team that still doesn’t have a chassis rolling or a motor running.
As well as the Cologne-sourced engine, parts for Toyota’s new car will come from all over Europe; Bos will supply the dampers, Alcon the brakes and Xtrac the transmission. And they’ll be bolted together and making a noise before the end of the first quarter. “We are like a nice big family in this team,” says Mäkinen. “We have a lot of very talented and motivated people working with us to make this car. I have full confidence in their knowledge.”