Toyota have decided to put a toe back in the water of international rallying and the man in the hot seat is young New Zealander Michael Young.
The man from Opotiki, and his co-driver Aussie Daniel Willson, are tackling the International Rally of Whangarei, May 17-19, in a Toyota Vitz RS and will contest the rest of the Asia Pacific Rally Championships in the car.
The team is a joint venture between Japan's Cusco Racing and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and will compete in the APRC's FIA Two-wheel drive Cup, FIA Junior Cup and the Asia Cup.
The Vitz was fist seen at Rally Hokkaido last year and Toyota are looking at their foray into the APRC this year as an opportunity to further develop the car as a championship contender in the future.
While not well known in New Zealand, Young, 20, has been a regular driver for Cusco Racing since 2011, winning the APRC's Junior Cup class in New Zealand and Australia in 2012 and winning the Junior Perlis Rally in Malaysia the year before.
The Junior Cup was introduced in 2011 for drivers aged 28 years or younger driving homologated two-wheel-drive cars with a maximum engine capacity of 1600cc.
"Last year was a big learning experience and I know that experience will make me a better driver and I'm really looking forward to this year," said Young.
"We've teamed up with Cusco Racing Japan again, who have been really supportive throughout my career, and we've got a brand new car for this season. The APRC is a real challenge as all the events have very different surfaces, climates and cultures. New Zealand and Australia are running two months later than last year, so no doubt will be cooler and possibly wetter."
Young first spotted the Toyota at last year's Hokkaido rally where it was being used as a double-zero car (car that runs through a rally stage before the zero car, which has the final say in getting the rally under way) and started the conversation.
Toyota were keen and Cusco got their hands on the car and built it up into a fully-fledged rally race car and got given the go-ahead to race it. The car is still under development and the goal this year is for Young and his team to finish as many rallies as possible while improving the car as they go along.
"The best part about all this is that I have my foot in the door with Toyota. Hopefully it'll go all right and we can gain as much data as possible for the team," said Young.
Young has raced in New Zealand only three times and is more known in Malaysia and Japan. He's raced at Whangarei twice and once in Rally New Zealand. He has, however, quite a number of Malaysian events under his belt in a Proton building a name for himself as he went along.
That, coupled with some success in Japan and China, opened the door to contest the APRC championship this year in a Toyota.
"The relationship with Cusco started when we rented a rally car from them in Japan. We had a good result with some fast times and they thought we were all right.
"So last year we got the opportunity to do the whole series with them, and now we get the chance to do the APRC in a Toyota starting in New Zealand. It's all jumped pretty fast but we're dealing with it," said Young.