Kris Meeke has been confirmed to make his FIA World Rally Championship return with Toyota in 2019 alongside Ott Tanak and Jari-Matti Latvala.
The 39-year-old gets another chance in WRC with Toyota for 2019 after he was dropped by Citroen Racing early in 2018 for excessive crashes. He joins Tanak and Latvala in the team as Esapekka Lappi moves to Citroen in 2019.
Tanak and Latvala have retained their co-drivers Martin Jarveoja and Miikka Anttila but it is reported that Meeke will have a new co-driver after splitting with Paul Nagle. “It’s a huge pleasure and honour for me to become a Toyota driver,” said Meeke.
“I’d like to thank Akio Toyoda, Tommi Makinen 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.
“I’ve got no particular objectives other than to enjoy my driving again and help Toyota to win a championship. 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.” It will be Meeke’s first time with Toyota in a major championship in his long career.
So far, the British racer has driven for manufacturers like Citroen, Renault, Opel, Subaru, Ford, Peugeot and Mini Cooper but never with Toyota. Team principal Makinen said: “We are all very excited to have Kris joining us here at TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.
“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.
“I believe we will again have a strong team to fight for both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles. Lastly, I am very sorry to see that Esapekka has decided to leave us for a new challenge, but we all wish him the best of luck for the future.”
Toyota’s chairman Akio Toyoda thanked Lappi for all his services and welcomed Meeke in the team alongside Tanak and Latvala: “To Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm: Thank you for battling together with us as part of our team over the last two years.
“Your victory at last season’s Rally Finland was outstanding. We were all truly impressed. With your youthful exuberance, Esapekka, you have provided the team with immense motivation.
“At this year’s Rally Finland, I was able to witness first-hand how much you value your fans, and how much you are loved by them. I am full of gratitude to you for strengthening TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s bond with its supporters.
“Co-driver Janne, you were always joking, lightening the mood, and energizing our team. If I hear hearty laughter coming from a rival team’s tent at WRC rallies next year, it will be reassuring to know that both you and Esapekka—our former partners—are flourishing.
“I have no doubt that next season Esapekka and Janne will again make us stronger—this time as our rivals. It excites me to think that we will once again have an opportunity to energize the WRC together.
“Until then, however, let us make sure we fight for this year’s championship to the very end! TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will continue with its efforts to create ever-better cars so that, until the very last stage of the very last rally, both of you will be able to demonstrate your full potential.
“Finally, to Kris Meeke, who will join our team from next season: I have great hopes that with your vast experience you will help make the Yaris WRC even better. When you first step into the Yaris WRC, please let us know what you think.
“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.”