In a week where Toyota started ramping up hype around the GR Yaris with a whole catalogue of GR parts, we came to a realisation. There’s something about a missed opportunity that boosts the status of anything connected with what could have been. Take the BMW M3 Touring concept (E46), which fuelled public desire for one for a further 20 years.
Take also the Ford RS200; itself the phoenix that rose from the ashes of a failed project to make the Escort fast enough to compete with the Audi Quattro and Peugeot 205. It had just one season on the front line of Group B rallying, finding its feet and exploring its potential, before the rules put the stunning prototype to the sword – at least in competition. It was turned into a fantastically lusty road car; one that few people have ever even ridden in, let alone driven. Still fewer have actually owned one.
The fact that it never achieved what insiders seemed to believe it was capable of, its competitive existence cut so short by the rulebook’s response to ever-increasing speeds and risks, only served to give the instantly recognisable rally star a bubble of mystique that even the other Group B spin-offs couldn’t manage.
Perhaps it was that it was so obviously not an ordinary Ford road car hotted up for gravel stages. It was, at the slightest glance, something special. Something special that never got to unleash its full potential. After that solitary year it emerged with a fascinating aura; it had become a very particular kind of mysterious exotica.
Although it’s already finding itself under the serious modder’s scalpel courtesy of Pandem madness, something similar is happening with the Toyota GR Yaris, the full-blooded, four-wheel drive sidekick to the cancelled 2020/2021 WRC car. Axed though it was in favour of retaining the old car, the new one exists; it was finished. It’s sitting in storage, full of silent promise but never to test its mettle against the other towering gladiators of the WRC arena.
It’s a massive shame: built with the expertise of the Tommi Mäkinen race team, it was sure to be a hell of a thing but we’ll never truly find out. The 2020/2021 technical rule changes were canned due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2022 regs require hybrid drive, ergo a pretty much fresh sheet of paper - albeit using ‘lessons’ learned from the abandoned 2020 car.
And that’s what makes the new GR Yaris so special. It’s a legitimate homologation special linked indelibly to motorsport as a tangible effigy of what might have been a championship-winning racer. It’s built almost in protest in spite of its racing brother’s premature demise. Production started just over a week ago and the unique bodyshell, the turbocharged triple, the optional limited-slip differentials on both axles and the all-wheel drive system will all remain. It’s a road-legal modern legend born from a motorsport legacy that never was.
More will be built than were RS200s. They’ll be exponentially cheaper and easier to drive every day, whether it’s to the shops or along a closed Col de Turini wearing race numbers and a retro-fitted roll cage. It may not have the cachet that only true scarcity can bring, but it sure as hell has all the standing it needs to become a modern classic as soon as it hits the streets. Expect more than a few to be bought and immediately stowed away for at least the next 30 years. Above all else, though, expect it to be epic.