Ryan Millen Will Drive RAV4 Rally Car in 2015 Rally America 2WD-Open Class
Toyota has officially unveiled its RAV4 rally car, which will be driven by off-road racing driver Ryan Millen in numerous rally events throughout the U.S., including part of the 2015 Rally America season in the 2WD-Open Class. The competition-ready small SUV was first revealed over the weekend at the Monster Energy Supercross Champioship finale at San Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, dropping cover between the races and put on display in the pits throughout the event.
The addition of a RAV4 to the Rally America running order is unusual, as the unibody-construction SSUV will compete against the likes of smaller, modified streetcars.
“I’ve driven just about everything Toyota has to offer,” Millen states in a press release. “And I’ve been very impressed with the RAV4’s tight, compact body and smooth handling. I’m looking forward to putting it through the paces this season.”
Millen is the son of off-roading legend Rod Millen, and has a history with the Japanese automaker that stretches back to his childhood, including racing in MTEG stadium at the age of nine, supporting Ivan Stewart’s off-road efforts, racing an FJ Cruiser in the Baja 1000, and winning the Baja 1000 in a Toyota Tundra TRD Pro in 2014.
SiriusXM and Wienerschnitzel have both announced a partnership with Toyota’s marketing team in support of the new race effort.
A tentative schedule has the Toyo’s first outing slated for the Idaho Rally next month, June 13th – 14th, followed by the Mendocino Rally July 18th – 19th. After that is Rally Utah, August 7th – 8th, the Gorman Ridge Rally, August 22nd, the Prescott Rally, October 2nd – 3rd, and the Mt. Hood Rally, October 17th.
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Why it matters
Normally, competitors in the 2WD-Open Class of Rally America come prepared with cars like the Ford Fiesta, VW GTI, or Mazdaspeed 3, not an SUV. However, Toyota feels that the RAV4 has a “lighter and leaner design” that allows it to handle the rigors of sliding through the rough stuff without tipping over or breaking outright.
“Over the years, RAV4 has become known more for its benefits as a practical family vehicle alternative to a larger SUV, and we felt it was due time that its performance and handling characteristics were put on display,” says Alex Du, RAV4 Vehicle Marketing & Communications Manager, in a press release. “That will undoubtedly be the case with Ryan Millen at the wheel of this incredible Rally RAV4.”
It’s quite the bold move for Toyota, and shows an enormous amount of faith in its popular SSUV. Because when it comes to sorting through a vehicle’s capabilities, few activities match the ferocity of rally racing.
Either way, the car is in good hands with Millen. The man was practically born going sideways in the dirt, and he should be more than capable of wringing out every tenth from the RAV4.
Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens. Any time there’s a curve ball like this, there’s an opportunity for either huge success or utter failure. Which category this particular racer will fall into remains to be seen.
Toyota boasts that the RAV4 “literally created the SSUV category” when it was first introduced in 1994, with a unibody construction that eventually became the norm for SUVs of every make. But winning in modern rally racing takes more than a clever design from two decades in the past. As such, the Toyota team outfitted the 2015 RAV4 LE with a full roll cage, BF Goodrich all-terrain DOT tires measured at 215/75R15, and TEIN suspension upgrades at every corner. Interestingly, the car retains its stock transmission and 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, with 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque available for motivation. However, the curb weight has been reduced by 500 pounds, which means the engine should provide a decent wallop at WOT.
Read our full review of the stock RAV4 here.