Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team has confirmed its driver line-up for the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship, with Kris Meeke joining Ott Tänak and Jari-Matti Latvala for a full season in the Yaris WRC.
The Northern Irishman, who has claimed five rally victories since 2015, is recognised as one of the fastest and most experienced drivers in the championship. His co-driver will be announced at a later date.
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Meeke said: “It’s a huge pleasure and honour for me to become a Toyota driver. I’d like to thank Akio Toyoda, Tommi Mäkinen and the entire Toyota team for their faith in me. Three years ago, we first discussed the possibility of me joining the team, and I’m so happy that it’s finally happened now.
“The performance of the Yaris WRC speaks for itself, but the team spirit here is incredible at every level, also with the Japanese culture of honour and respect. I can’t wait to get started.
“The very first championship that I won was actually when I was aged 16 and co-driving for my brother on our local road rally championship. We clinched that title in a Toyota Corolla, so for very many reasons, it feels incredibly good to be here. I can’t think of a better place to be.”
Ott Tänak will continue to drive the Toyota Yaris WRC next year alongside co-driver Martin Järveoja, after joining the team for the 2018 season. This year the pairing has already won four events and is challenging for the drivers’ championship.
Jari-Matti Latvala will also retain his drive. The experienced Finn and his co-driver Miikka Anttila have been a key part of the team since Toyota’s return to the WRC in Monte Carlo in January 2017. They scored the team’s first podium on that event, and the first victory just a few weeks later in Sweden. Latvala has achieved four podiums so far this year, including three in the last four rounds.
Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm will leave the team following the conclusion of the 2018 season. The pair made their debut in the top category of the WRC with Toyota on Rally Portugal last year, and soon scored their maiden victory at Rally Finland. This season they have taken three podium finishes so far, contributing to the team’s current position in the lead of the manufacturers’ championship. Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team would like to thank Esapekka and Janne for their hard work.
Tommi Mäkinen, team principal, said: “We are all very excited to have Kris joining us here. We know that he is very fast, but he also brings a lot of experience. His technical understanding is at a really high level and I believe he can provide new knowledge and ideas to help us in our aim to keep making the Yaris WRC better.
“I am also very pleased that Jari-Matti will continue to be part of our team. He has done some brilliant work for us and has recently been regularly on the podium again, which has been very important. Together with Ott, who has proven that he is absolutely one of the fastest drivers right now, I think we have a very strong line-up for next year, with three drivers who are all quick, experienced and can win rallies.”