Fri 09 Jun 2023

Ex-WRC great Hirvonen praises Toyota young stars following ERC debut

Mikko Hirvonen expects an even better performance from the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program trio on round four of the FIA European Rally Championship next week.

The 15-time FIA World Rally Championship event winner is the initiative’s chief instructor and was in attendance when Hikaru Kogure, Nao Otake and Yuki Yamamoto took part in the ERC for the first time on ORLEN 79th Rally Poland last month.

Although Otake and Yamamoto were non-finishers, Kogure finished fourth in the FIA ERC4 category, while all three set fastest stage times, with Yamamoto going quickest in class six times and Kogure and Otake claiming a brace of stage bests.

Speaking following the Mikołajki-based event, Hirvonen said: “We’re really happy with the performance of the guys. All three drivers were able to show very good speed and set fastest times in the class; we’re pleased for them and for the Program that they are making this progress.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that Yuki had an issue in the first stage on Friday night. After that, when the car was working, he was showing really impressive speed. Without the issue, he could have been leading the rally, so he did really well.

“Hikaru improved his speed through the whole weekend. It’s taken him a while to understand how hard he can push in really deep ruts, but it feels like something has clicked and he was able to do really good times and gain a position at the end. We were pushing him a bit for those last two stages, and he didn’t make any mistakes.

“With Nao it was a pity that he made the mistake early on and missed the whole of Saturday, but he also did really impressive times when he restarted. If they can be consistent with the speed they’ve been doing [in Poland], I think they can all challenge for the podium [in Latvia].”

Tet Rally Liepāja takese place from 16 - 18 June and uses high-speed gravel stages.

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