TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge drivers Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai contested the second of two Italian asphalt rallies on their program last weekend: the legendary Rallye Sanremo in Italy. Having completed the Rally Il Ciocco two weeks earlier, the Japanese drivers aimed to capitalise on their prior experience in order to further improve their driving on asphalt. With both drivers finishing the rally and setting competitive times on their Sanremo debut, it was mission accomplished.
Despite the demanding nature of the most famous event in the Italian Rally Championship – which is always contested by an experienced array of local experts – Arai, co-driven by Glenn Macneall, finished 13th overall and fourth in the R2 class after an entirely clean run from start to finish. Having found a good rhythm and car settings, he increased his pace stage by stage. Katsuta, co-driven by Marko Salminen, finished 27th overall and ninth in the R2 class, after starting the second day under the super rally regulations. On Friday’s penultimate stage, Katsuta slid wide and damaged his car’s suspension, which meant that he had to stop and re-start on Saturday morning. Apart from that, he made no mistakes at all.
Sanremo is a classic name in the rallying world, having formed part of the FIA World Rally Championship up until 2003. It consists of narrow and bumpy mountain roads, including some fast sections, but it also has a unique feature that provides a special learning opportunity: two long stages run on Friday night, with the crews returning to service in the early hours of Saturday morning. With the re-start for the final leg taking place only a few hours later, Sanremo provides a taste of old-school rallying: putting drivers out of their comfort zones and testing the endurance of the crews and the team.
A further challenge came from some sudden wet weather, which affected the final loop of the 11-stage event. Taking care not to make any mistakes, the drivers had to get to the finish using slick tyres on a fully wet surface. The rally gave the both drivers very good lessons for the future.
“I’m happy to finish the rally and collect this experience, but also I am a bit annoyed with myself for making a small mistake with big consequences on Friday night. There was a slippery crest just five kilometres from the end of SS5. I went wide and got onto the loose gravel, which meant that we slid into a kerb and damaged a lower arm on the suspension. I should have marked ‘slippery’ on the pace notes, but this is how you learn. It's been a very nice rally, and without this one problem we could have had a good result. We chose tyres that were too hard for the first loop of stages, but apart from that we got it mostly right: although the last stage with the rain was so slippery. We also made good progress with our pace notes, after changing the system earlier this year. So overall a positive weekend for us, despite one setback.”
“This rally has been a very good learning experience for me and I was feeling confident from start to finish. We didn’t have any major problems and we were even catching some of the local guys on the stages sometimes, which shows that the speed was there. I haven’t done many rallies on asphalt but this was definitely my best so far, although I can still see many ways to improve. Above all I wanted to be safe and finish the rally, while seeing the pace I could have. The most difficult part was judging the grip available, especially at night and in the places with smooth asphalt, because it was really difficult to tell how hard we could push. With the rain on the last stage it was like driving on ice. We had a very small ‘moment’, but we made sure that we were careful and got to the finish, which was our priority.”
Jouni Ampuja (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program instructor)
“It was a rally where the drivers got to see a bit of everything, so this was a good experience for them. We had lots of ‘firsts’ – the first time on asphalt in the dark, the first time on fully wet asphalt – so this really helped them to gain some useful knowledge for the future. The speed of both drivers was impressive, right up there with the class leaders, who know these types of roads very well. Hiroki was close to finishing on the podium in the class, while Taka was quite unlucky: he paid a big price for a small mistake. But then he was able to come back on Saturday and still be on the pace, so he finished the rally well. We can see the progress all the time with both drivers.”
Final Results (R2 category):
1 Marco Pollara/Giuseppe Princiotto (Peugeot 208 R2) 2h07m19.8s
2 Luca Bottarelli/Manuel Fenoli (Peugeot 208 R2) +50.1s
3 Andrea Mazzocchi/Silvia Gallotti (Peugeot 208 R2) +1m02.2s
4 Hiroki Arai/Glenn Macneall (Ford Fiesta R2) +1m11.5s
5 Tobia Gheno/Giuseppe Zamboni (Peugeot 208 R2) +2m06.7s
9 Takamoto Katsuta/Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta R2) +13m11.6s
The two crews will contest the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières-Rhône next from April 20-22, a classic round of the French Rally Championship originally created in 1947. It uses fast and wide asphalt roads, which will accustom the drivers to a different type of asphalt rallying compared to what they have already experienced in Italy.