The Japanese FIA World Rally Championship driver Takamoto Katsuta who is racing for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the fourth Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 car, has risen through the ranks over the past seasons with the Toyota WRC Challenge program, and now through the same program efforts are being made to bring more Japanese drivers to the top class of rallying.
Over the last couple of weeks, eight Japanese drivers took part in a Toyota assessment camp in central Finland, where the WRC team is located. The skills of the drivers were tested at the wheel of road-legal GR Yaris cars.
They underwent neurological and fitness tests together with the former WRC stars Mikko Hirvonen and Juho Hänninen, and Jouni Ampuja will evaluate the drivers’ performance in the role of driving coaches.
“We were really impressed by the attitude of all the candidates over the two weeks. They really tried hard and wanted to push their limits. They came from different backgrounds within motorsport and most of them had not driven on snow and ice before.” Hirvonen said.
“So there were lots of new things for them to handle but they did that really well and made big steps forward. We tried to select the drivers who we felt have the most potential for the future, but it was not an easy decision to make.”
Out of the eight drivers that took part, three drivers passed the test which are 20-year-old Hikaru Kogure, 21-year-old Nao Otake and 24-year-old Yuki Yamamoto and they will be joining the team’s challenge program, which will be headed by Hirvonen.
“The three drivers we’ve chosen showed good determination to learn and make progress in their careers. They also impressed us with how much they improved within the two weeks, how they absorbed the information from the instructors and how they handled different situations under pressure. We believe they can have a really bright future in rallying. Now the real hard work begins for them but I’m sure they are ready for the challenge.” Hirvonen added.
Starting on 7 February the drivers will under go more training and later somewhere around the summer time the drivers will be taking part in national and international rallies in Finland and Europe in Rally4 cars.
“It is hard to describe my feelings about being selected to join the TGR WRC Challenge Program. I am really excited for what is coming. The training camp was tough.” Kogure said.
“Because I am not so used to speaking English, a big part of the challenge was being able to understand the advice from the instructors and communicate what I was feeling. But I am sure this will improve thanks to this Program. I am really looking forward to participating in rallies outside of Japan because without this opportunity it would not have been possible.”
“It is unbelievable to be one of the chosen drivers. It was quite a shock to hear my name being called. I have been used to driving mainly rear-wheel drive cars so far in my career, so during the training camp I had to get used to driving with front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive cars.” Otake said.
“I think this was the toughest challenge for me. But I am very happy, very excited and I hope that I will be able to do well as part of the TGR WRC Challenge Program.”
“I am very, very happy to have been selected for the TGR WRC Challenge Program. I can’t quite believe it. The past two weeks were a very big opportunity for me to learn a lot of new things, like driving new cars and on a new surface for me.” Yamamoto said.
“Almost all of it was new for me and it was an amazing experience. I am very excited now to be joining the Program. It is a great chance to make my dreams come true.”