Katsuta climbs the learning curve in Monte-Carlo

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program driver Takamoto Katsuta, co-driven by Daniel Barritt, has embarked on his 14-rally learning schedule this year with the oldest and most prestigious event on the calendar: Rallye Monte-Carlo. Having concentrated on gaining experience and staying out of trouble throughout all four days, the young Japanese driver finished sixth in the R5 category – one step below the top World Rally Car class – and 13th overall.

Rallye Monte-Carlo is well-known for its mixed conditions that can vary from dry asphalt to snow to ice, making tyre choice incredibly complex. Katsuta and Barritt were determined just to get to the finish and take away as much experience as possible of these tricky stages that test every aspect of a crew’s skills. The rally got underway with two stages run on Thursday night in darkness, before the longest day of the event on Friday featuring six stages, after which Katsuta and Barritt were already classified just outside the top 10 overall.

In the mixed conditions of Saturday, which featured plenty of snow and ice at altitude, the crew had two low-speed spins as they explored the limits. But this didn’t impede their progress as they powered successfully to the finish, having taken on board many useful lessons throughout the 16 stages and 323.83 competitive kilometres.

There was plenty for the crew to learn: Katsuta and Barritt were competing together for the first time since 2016, while it was the first time for Katsuta on Rallye Monte-Carlo. As a result, it was also the first time that Katsuta had worked with safety crews: a non-competing crew (in this case, Jarkko Miettinen and Mikko Markkula) that goes through the stages before the rally car, to check and correct the pace notes if necessary.

Takamoto Katsuta

“This rally was very tricky for me, especially as it was the first time driving here: I was only a spectator before. But we survived and learned a lot, which was the main thing. Our aim was just to get to the finish and learn, no more than that. I wanted to get the confidence, and the feeling and the experience here. I didn’t really care about the speed. We achieved our target, and so I think the next time will be a lot easier for us. Thank you to Dan, Jarkko and Mikko for their help and their experience. On Saturday we had two spins, but slow speed so nothing too serious: the roads were very slippery. Tyre choice was one of the most difficult things about this rally, as you really never know what the right decision is but luckily, we had very good advice and I felt I was getting better all the time. It’s a very special rally, this is for certain. I don’t think there’s anywhere else like Monte-Carlo.”

Jarkko Miettinen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program instructor)

“I would like to congratulate Taka and Dan for their good result on Rallye Monte-Carlo. Taka drove his first Monte exactly according to the team plan. This is a rally that you have to carefully learn by driving it before you can even think about winning it. I am sure Taka could have gone faster on some of the stages, but he quite rightly wanted to take away as much experience as he could from here for the future. This was great start to our 2019 season, which will continue on Rally Sweden.”

Tommi Mäkinen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program supervisor)

“I think that Taka did a very, very good job on his first Rallye Monte-Carlo. Completing such a difficult event with no major problems will really increase his confidence and experience going forwards. You can really learn a lot here if you manage to do the full distance like Taka did. I’m sure that the experience of this weekend will benefit him already in Sweden, which is of course a much more familiar challenge for him.”

RC2 Results:

1 Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondson (Ford Fiesta R5) 3h34m20.5s
2 Yoann Bonato/Benjamin Boulloud (Citroen C3 R5) +51.9s
3 Stephane Sarrazin/Jacques-Julien Rennucci (Hyundai i20 R5) +1m02.2s
4 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta R5) +2m58.8s
5 Ole Christian Veiby/Jonas Andersson (Volkswagen Polo R5) +5m08.6s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta R5) +6m53.3s

What’s next?

Katsuta returns to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs for his next event: Rally Sweden from February 14-17. Last year, Katsuta won the WRC2 category, so he will be setting his sights on a repeat of this historic result. The specialised Swedish stages are characterised by cold temperatures along with snow and ice, with the cars using studded tyres to bite into the ground and gain grip.

Pictures will be uploaded here during the event

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TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program is supported by Otsuka Pharmaceutical.