Wed 19 Apr 2023

Future generation of Japanese stars to follow Katsuta with ERC trial

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program drivers Hikaru Kogure, Nao Otake and Yuki Yamamoto will follow in the wheel tracks of their FIA World Rally Championship podium-finishing compatriot Takamoto Katsuta when they try the ERC for size next month.

They will contest ORLEN 79 Rally Poland from 19 - 21 May, the third round of the 2023 FIA European Rally Championship, in a fleet of Renault Clio Rally4s.

The high-speed gravel event based in the town of Mikołajki is unchartered territory for the trio but will allow them to gain vital knowledge and experience in a highly competitive environment as they continue their career development, which also appearances on the WRC-counting Rally Sweden in February.

A statement from Toyota Gazoo Racing read: “The trio will compete on gravel for the first time this year at Rally Poland. As a round of the FIA European Rally Championship, the event will allow Kogure, Otake and Yamamoto to challenge themselves against many other up-and-coming young drivers on fast gravel roads around Mikołajki, which previously featured in the FIA World Rally Championship up until 2017.”

Katsuta was put through his paces in the FIA European Rally Championship as part of his Toyota development mission when he contested Rally Estonia in July 2016. He has since gone on to become a factory driver for the Japanese car giant in the WRC.

Kogure, Otake and Yamamoto were in action on #RA Rally Regione Piemonte, a Tarmac-based round of the Italian championship, previously titled Rally di Alba, last weekend. It was the their third asphalt rally since their training with the WRC Challenge Program began last year, and the second in Italy after last September’s Rallye San Martino.

Mikko Hirvonen, the Toyota Gazoo Racoing WRC Challenge Program chief instructor, said “We were excited to see how our drivers would do on asphalt after all the pacenote training they’ve been doing over the winter. In terms of our preparation, everything worked really well. The guys were really switched on in the test and driving already with a clever approach, getting the feeling back on asphalt after quite a long break.

“In the rally, Yuki continued where he left off in the winter and did another really good rally. Competing against the Italians is really tough as they know the roads and they are really quick here, but Yuki was still able to have good speed.”

Hirvonen continued: “It was a pity what happened to Hikaru. With his circuit background we knew he was really keen to get back on asphalt and we straightaway saw he was feeling more confident. We felt bad that he had to retire; there was nothing he could have done differently. Still, he was able to show his speed and hopefully he can take confidence from this rally.

“Nao was a bit unlucky as well but he was able to get back into the rally and do all the stages that were run, which is good experience for him. With a few delays and cancelled stages we didn’t get all the kilometres we wanted, but in terms of the driving from all three guys, it was a very positive weekend.”

Meanwhile, Rally Islas Canarias is up next on the ERC schedule with the all-asphalt event taking placed from 4 - 6 May.

Pictured from top to bottom are: Yuki Yamamoto (also in car), Hikaru Kogure and Nao Otake All photos: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM