Two new Japanese in Toyota's detection program

The WRC Challenge Program will undergo a new process in 2024 with the training of two additional young Japanese. Following in the footsteps of Takamoto Katsuta, they made their debut in the Finnish championship.

Published on 17/06/2024 à 12:21

Loïc ROCCI

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Two new Japanese in Toyota's detection program

Takumi Matsushita (right) or Shotaro Goto (left) have started their training to follow the path of Takamoto Katsuta (Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing)

If there are countries where the promotion of the next generation is stalled or completely absent, this is not the case of Japan. By committing to WRC, Toyota has not neglected the training of the next generations and it is impossible to blame the manufacturer for not making the necessary efforts to promote one or more Japanese to the highest level.

Launched in 2015, this program allowed Takamoto Katsuta to join the elite and today be among the candidates for victory. The process that took the likeable 31-year-old to the top has been refined. In 2022, a second contingent of hopefuls began their training. Yuko Yamamoto (27 years old) and Hikaru Kogure (23 years old) made their debut in the Finnish championship. They are now appearing more and more often in the WRC as they have raced in Sweden, Croatia, Portugal and Sardinia this year. It is not clear when the choice will come, but it is certain that soon there will be only one left. What will then be his program? Will he come and take Katsuta's place? Will he be involved in an additional car? Toyota management will have to decide as much as the 3e wave is already on its way.

After selections organized in Japan in 2023, two candidates were selected. Takumi Matsushita (24 years old) and Shotaro Goto (22 years old) arrived in Finland at the beginning of the year and began their training. Their experience in rally being very limited, Matsushita played 1 and Shotaro none, they focused their efforts on creating notes. The first realization of their work took place during the SM Pohjanmaa Ralli. Organized in the west of Finland, near the town of Seinäjoki, the 5e round of the Finnish championship included 9 special stages and 122,05 km timed. Associated with Finnish navigators, they reached the finish with their Renault Clio Rally4, Takumi (with Pekka Kelander) finishing 34e and Goto (with Jussi Lindberg) 36e. Beyond the result, the two apprentices especially enjoyed finishing.

« It was the first rally of my life, explained Shotaro Goto. It was super exciting and fun. I was very happy to reach the end without damaging the car. I think I gained a lot of experience as the conditions changed throughout the weekend. The biggest challenge for me was being brave enough and consistent in my notes. » “It was not an easy test,” added Takumi Matsushita. I was really happy to finish. The hardest part was finding the correct and precise braking point after a long straight when you can't see the turn. The first day in particular I struggled a bit with it, but the second day I had a much better feeling and had a lot more confidence with the notes. »

The performances of the two Japanese satisfied Mikko Hirvonen. “ We are very happy with how this first rally went, said the program's chief instructor. The only thing we really wanted was for them to finish and that's what they did. Additionally, we compare their split times with those of the fastest riders – who have been driving on Finnish roads for a long time and have participated in a lot of races – and the difference per kilometer was quite encouraging for their first event. They learned a lot and they really understood the importance of grades. »

After this first attempt, Goto and Matsushita will continue their training in Finland before their next competition, the HYAcenter Rally, on July 26 and 27 based in Tampere.

Loïc ROCCI

Journalist specializing in rallying past, present and future... and with a southern accent

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