The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program is designed to give up-and-coming young rally stars from Japan a solid learning campaign through a series of varied events on different championships.
The first stop of their 14-rally schedule was the famed Arctic Rally in northern Finland, based in Rovaniemi. With a large part of the route within the Arctic Circle, temperatures have been known to dip as low as minus 35 degrees centigrade in the past. On this occasion though, it was just below zero degrees: providing optimal snow conditions for Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai to continue learning this extremely specialized surface, each driving a Ford Fiesta R5.
Both drivers finished all 10 stages of the rally, although Takamoto, co-driven by Marko Salminen, lost 18 minutes stuck in a snow bank on the opening day. He got back on the road to eventually finish 20th overall after two intense days of competition. Hiroki, co-driven by Glenn Macneall, enjoyed a clean run until the very last stage, ending up 10th after he also got stuck in a snow bank and lost five minutes.
As well as Takamoto and Hiroki, the program also includes a Japanese co-driver: Sayaka Adachi. She is taking part in the full Finnish Rally Championship this year (of which the Arctic Rally is the first round) alongside established star Jarkko Nikara, in a Subaru Impreza WRX. The duo were consistently challenging for the overall lead of the Arctic Rally, eventually finishing just off the podium in fourth following a differential problem before the last stage.
“Luckily I got some help from the spectators after I went off on day one but on the following stages I had a big problem with the engine misfiring, which slowed me down as well. The main thing is that I finished and got lots of kilometres on snow: this is very good training. The co-operation with my co-driver Marko is working very well and I’m very happy with our performance despite the tough conditions.”
“It took me some time to find the rhythm at the beginning. After first service we changed the set-up and the feeling got better and better. The only problem was on the last stage: the wind had blown snow onto the road so the corners were tighter than on the recce. In the end I went into the snow bank: the spectators helped me but I feel sorry for the team. This rally has helped me learn to find the right set-up to get the best possible performance, so I want to keep improving this on all the rallies in the future.”
“Jarkko is a very fast driver and his experience helped me a lot on this rally. I learned so many things during our first rally together, and I enjoyed the rally very much. My first snow rally was very long, with very high speeds. So reading the pacenotes under these circumstances gave me a lot of good experience. Now I need to continue to learn in order to improve even more.”
“As well as a new partnership with Sayaka, it was the first rally for me with pacenotes in English, so we both had a lot to learn! The partnership got better all the time as the rally went on: by the end it was really good. Before the start of the rally I thought that we could be in the top three if things went really perfectly: we nearly made it despite a differential problem so I am very happy.”
Jouni Ampuja (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program instructor)
“The results on paper are not a fair reflection of the real performance. For drivers who are unfamiliar with these complex conditions, Takamoto and Hiroki did extremely well against some strong rivals, setting top five stage times. After his off yesterday Takamoto was 41st on the road, which meant he did not have very good road conditions and was also catching slower cars. But he learned a lot from that experience. Hiroki was set for fifth overall until the final stage and drove a really good rally. We also tried some different set-ups for Sweden, while Sayaka and Jarkko did a fantastic job too, so the general progress made by the whole team was very encouraging.”