The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program members Takamoto Katsuta, Hiroki Arai and Sayaka Adachi took to asphalt roads for the first time this season on Rally Il Ciocco, the opening round of the Italian Rally Championship. Katsuta finished fourth overall with Arai close behind in sixth, while co-driver Adachi came fourth in her class alongside Finnish driver Jarkko Nikara.
Rally Il Ciocco took place over fast and slippery roads in the hills of Tuscany, with 153.91 competitive kilometres over 15 stages, all but one of which had to be tackled in the same day. Katsuta and Arai were both returning to Rally Il Ciocco for a second time, but after using two-wheel drive machinery on the 2017 event, this time they were competing in the top class in Ford Fiesta R5s, going up against many experienced local drivers. Adachi and Nikara meanwhile were competing in a two-wheel drive Ford Fiesta R2B for the first time. It was also Adachi’s first asphalt rally in Europe and Nikara’s first event on the surface for more than five years.
Katsuta spent much of the rally in fifth place, just ahead of Arai, as the two young Japanese drivers set consistent and evenly-matched stage times. An engine misfire caused Katsuta to drop behind Arai with just two stages remaining, but he recovered the place on the penultimate test. He then produced the third quickest stage time on the very last stage to move himself and co-driver Marko Salminen up into fourth place by 2.2 seconds over their nearest rival.
Arai, navigated by Glenn Macneall, finished a further 6.8s behind in sixth, despite struggling with the feeling from his brake pedal on some stages. The gap between the two drivers was never more than nine seconds, as both avoided making big mistakes on the tricky stages.
Adachi and Nikara lost time early in the rally when they lost the use of stage mode due to a broken wire. They fixed the problem after SS2, which led to a penalty for being late starting SS3. They achieved consistently strong stage times thereafter as they climbed from 13th to fourth in the R2B class. Despite their lack of experience of the stages compared to their competition, they were quickest in the class on five stages of the 15 stages.
“I am happy with how this rally went, particularly after taking fourth place on the last stage and being only 1.3 seconds from the fastest time. I think that shows that I improved quite a bit from the beginning of the rally. I feel I learned a lot. I don’t have so much experience on asphalt in an R5 car, so this was good practice for Rally Corsica. I still need to improve our pace-notes for asphalt rallies as well as my driving: I need to make my driving style smoother as sometimes I am too aggressive.”
“I am fairly happy with my rally, but it was a little bit frustrating that I had a braking problem on some stages. The feeling from the pedal seemed different on every corner, so I kept having to adjust all the time. Otherwise I think that things went well. My driving was getting better all the time and I believe the times have been quite OK. I learned quite a lot about how to use the road, and hopefully this will be useful for Corsica.”
“This was our first time in an R2 car and on asphalt roads. The stages on this rally had lots of twists and narrow corners, so the pace-notes were very busy. This was good experience and practice for me. I was getting better with my reading of the pace-notes throughout the rally. I was also learning more and more about how Jarkko was driving the car, particularly how light it is, and how easy it is to lose the grip at the rear. I hope this experience will help me in the future.”
“This rally was a big challenge, as it was my first time on asphalt with Sayaka, and I had not driven on asphalt in an R2 car for many years. At the beginning we had a problem with the car, and Sayaka’s pace-note reading was also bit late, so it was difficult to find the rhythm. In the afternoon though it was actually really good. My driving was getting better and Sayaka’s pace-note reading at the end of the rally was good. We learned a lot so it was a good rally for us.”
Jouni Ampuja (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program instructor)
“With Takamoto and Hiroki we got the maximum from this test event before Rally Corsica. Firstly, they had a good test and then during the rally they did exactly what we planned, which was to get the feeling for driving on asphalt and to improve their driving styles. We are really happy that they both did clean stages throughout, and because of that achieved some nice results. They made no mistakes on challenging roads against some really tough competition. For Sayaka this was a totally different kind of rally to what she has done before, so there were new challenges with the navigation and the pace-note reading, as well as with how the rally was organised, which was different to what she is used to Japan and Finland. Despite the problem with the car, it was a good rally for her.”
1 Paolo Andreucci/Andrea Andreussi (Peugeot 208 T16 R5) 1h46m02.0s
2 Andrea Crugnola/Danilo Fappani (Ford Fiesta R5) +20.8s
3 Simone Campedelli/Tania Canton (Ford Fiesta R5) +29.7s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta R5) +1m37.8s
5 Rudy Michelini/Michele Perna (Skoda Fabia R5) +1m40.0s
6 Hiroki Arai/Glenn Macneall (Ford Fiesta R5) +1m44.6s
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20 Jarkko Nikara/Sayaka Adachi (Ford Fiesta R2B) +13m24.6s
Katsuta and Arai will be able to use the experience gained on Rally Il Ciocco when they take part in the Tour de Corse, the French round of the FIA World Rally Championship, on April 5-8. Taking part on the island of Corsica, the rally is one of the most challenging asphalt rallies in the world, known for its long and twisting stages. Adachi and Nikara’s next rally meanwhile will mean another change of surface as they return to the Finnish Rally Championship for the O.K. Auto-Ralli on May 18-19. Based in Kouvola in southern Finland, it will be the first gravel round of the season, with Adachi and Nikara back in their usual R4-specification Subaru Impreza.
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