The GR Yaris is now a championship-winning rally car
When the GR Yaris arrived, we got the impression that the abiding feeling – or indeed feelings – were ambivalence. There’s not a soul who’s into machines who would argue that homologation specials don’t form an essential part of a balanced automotive diet, so whether we get them by hook, crook, or thorough exploitations of the rule book, all is well.
And yet the GR Yaris was also something of a lost soul – missing out on the ‘proper motorsports version’ part of the racing-car-for-the-road equation kind of felt like its moment in the sun was stolen without warning or reason.
As if it were on holiday in Cornwall, or something.
However, we can now happily say that its moment in the sun has arrived. And it’s in Australia, where just a moment in the sun is enough to start smaller barbecues. Which no one has, because it’s Australia.
Anywho, in its debut year in the Australian Rally Championship, The Yaris AP4 claimed first and second place in the final standings. We imagine that a third-place finish would also have been on the cards, were it not for the pesky fact that there were only two Yaris AP4s in the competition.
But, while the Championship was something of a whitewash in the Yaris AP4’s favour, the battle for which driver would claim the top spot came down to the last race.
When the dust settled, Lewis Bates, son of ARC legend Neal Bates, took first place, ahead of... um, Harry Bates, son of ARC legend Neal Bates. Well, it’s not just over at the Le Casa de Sainz or Het Huis van Verstappen that racing dynasties are formed, is it?
After a close-run year between the brothers, a huge crash on a special stage took Harry out of contention on the last day of competition in the entire Championship. Lewis, who started after Harry, had to drive past the scene of his brother’s crash, somehow compose himself and keep going. There’s in-car footage of him wiping away a tear while maintaining race pace. A different breed, these race drivers.
In the end, his efforts were enough to earn Lewis his first ARC trophy. It’ll sit next to Harry’s 2019 trophy (a certain virus precluded a 2020 or 2021 championship), as well as Neal’s from 1993, 1994, 1995... and 2008. Just when he thought he was out, et cetera.
Now, you might imagine that the GR Yaris’s racing bona fides might be tempered by the fact that it happened half a world away and a whole world apart from the top tier of WRC.
But, given that you can still buy (with a hefty wait, we should add) a GR Yaris road car – and that the Neal Bates Motorsport team is already at work figuring out how to go even faster this year – we’d say there’s no need for any more ambivalence.
STORY Craig Jamieson