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Toyota WRC boss Latvala to drive hydrogen-powered entry in Fuji 24 Hours

Autosport logo Autosport 20/5/2022 Jamie Klein

Latvala, 37, has been named as part of a six-driver line-up for Rookie Racing's ST-Q class #32 GR Corolla H2 Concept in the Super Taikyu blue-riband event on 4-5 June.

The Finn will share driving duties with Toyota president Akio Toyoda (entered under his usual pseudonym of 'Morizo'), Super GT regular Hiroaki Ishiura, Masahiro Sasaki, Yasuhiro Ogura and another figure from the world of rallying, Japanese champion Norihiko Katsuta (father of current Toyota WRC driver Takamoto).

Despite a recent lack of circuit racing experience, Latvala said he wanted to sample Toyota's hydrogen car for himself after hearing about it from Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe colleagues Kamui Kobayashi, who drove the car on its debut in last year's Fuji 24 Hours, and Kazuki Nakajima.

“When I saw the live video of a Super Taikyu 24-hour race in Fuji during last year’s Rally Portugal, I thought that Toyota’s new approach to carbon neutrality was simply amazing," said Latvala, who previously contested the Nurburgring 24 Hours back in 2010 at the wheel of a Ford Focus RS.

"I agree that sound is one of the best parts of motorsports. And I heard from Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima that the feeling of driving the car is the same as a gasoline engine car. I was really interested in their feedback so I wanted to check it for myself, and I will have the chance to drive this car.

"Having experienced firsthand the activities toward carbon neutrality, I would like to share them with the world, especially in Europe. And I want to check the potential of this technology for rally cars. I’m happy that I can come to Japan before this year’s Rally Japan."

Toyota has been working to improve the performance of the GR Corolla H2 Concept - which uses a converted internal combustion engine instead of a fuel cell - since the car's debut 12 months ago, increasing both the power output and the time needed to replenish its hydrogen tanks.

The marque claimed last year to have reached horsepower parity with the gasoline GR Yaris engine on which the hydrogen-powered unit is based, while the refuelling time has been cut from 4m30s on the car's debut to just 1m30s.

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In the most recent Super Taikyu race, this year's five-hour season opener at Suzuka in March, the Corolla finished 43rd overall and completed a total of 97 laps in the hands of Sasaki, Toyoda, Ishiura and Ogura, 35 laps behind the winning Team Daishin Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.

Sasaki produced the car's best lap in qualifying of 2m26.012s, around 26s off the pace of the best runners in the top ST-X class for GT3 runners, but ahead of every car in the lowest ST-5 category.

Rookie Racing has a second entry in the ST-Q class for machinery not conforming to any specific technical regulations, a new-generation GR86 using synthetic fuel derived by biomass.

Super GT champion Yuhi Sekiguchi has been added to the driver line-up, joining another member of the Toyota GT500 stable, Kazuya Oshima, Naoya Gamou, Daisuke Toyoda (son of Akio) and Ryuta Ukai.

At Suzuka, the car finished 28th overall, 17 laps down on the winning Nissan, with a best qualifying time of 2m19.620s courtesy of Mercedes SUPER GT regular Gamou - almost on a par with the best ST-2 class runners.

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