Toyota targets home success in WRC’s Japanese season finale

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Toyota targets home success in WRC’s Japanese season finale

Rallying

Toyota targets home success in WRC’s Japanese season finale

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Twelve years after it last appeared in the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Japan returns as the WRC’s 2022 season closer, Nov. 10-13.

Unlike previous editions which were held on gravel roads on the northern island of Hokkaido, this week’s event switches to an all-asphalt format and is based in Toyota City, on the country’s main island of Honshu.

Crews face 19 tight, narrow and twisty special stages in the mountain regions of Aichi and Gifu, a heavily populated region of approximately nine million people around three hours’ drive from capital city Tokyo.

For Toyota Gazoo Racing, the return to Japan caps a dominant season. Toyota’s global headquarters are just a stone’s throw away from the service park. And with the WRC drivers’, co-drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles already in the bag, the team is hoping to celebrate its global success with a strong showing in front of local crowds.

Taking the spotlight will no doubt be Takamoto Katsuta, who drives a GR Yaris Rally1 for Toyota’s Next Generation development squad. The 29-year-old was born and raised in the Aichi regions biggest city, Nagoya, just a few miles from Toyota City, and starts the WRC’s 13th and final round in search of his maiden WRC victory.

“Of course I know this will be a big rally,” Katsuta said. “There will be a lot of interest from the people, from the fans and for the team.

“I know it will be quite a different rally with different kinds of roads from what we have seen. But I will do my best and, of course, I’m going to enjoy the Japanese stages.”

Japanese fans leave no doubt who they’re supporting. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Joining Katsuta in three more hybrid GR Yaris Rally1 machines are WRC drivers’ champion Kalle Rovanpera, Elfyn Evans and last month’s Rally Spain winner Sebastien Ogier, who has new co-driver Vincent Landais alongside.

Heading the competition, Ott Tanak marks his final start for Hyundai Motorsport after confirming his departure from the team at the end of the season.

A solid result in his i20 N Rally1 would ensure the Estonian driver bows out with second in the championship, although teammate Thierry Neuville — currently third in the points — will be doing all he can to try and overturn the 21-point deficit.

Tanak aims to leave Hyundai on a high note, and with the runner-up championship place, with a strong Rally Japan. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Part-time pilot Dani Sordo drives the team’s third car on what will be his fifth outing of the season. The Spaniard is a late replacement for upcoming talent Oliver Solberg, who was released by Hyundai prior to Rally Spain.

M-Sport Ford fields a two-strong Puma Rally1 lineup headed by Craig Breen. The Irishman is using the season closer to bed in new co-driver James Fulton, while Gus Greensmith is looking to end his season with a strong result in the second Puma.

Breen got off to a promising start in Japan with second in the opening stage. M-Sport photo

Thursday evening got things underway with a short, 1.71-mile blast around Toyota City’s Kuragaike Park. Toyota’s Ogier (pictured, top) earned the fastest time, edging M-Sport Ford’s Breen by just 0.1s, with Tanak and Neuville putting Hyundai in third and fourth.

But the serious stuff starts with Friday’s opening leg. It’s the longest of the rally and features three different stages — each of which are run twice — bringing the day’s total to 82.62 miles.

After that, Saturday’s seven stages, including two runs through the short (0.87 miles), but fan-packed Okazaki City super special, add up to 50.01 competitive miles.

Sunday’s final leg takes in five stages and 43.38 competitive miles, with no opportunity for service, and ends with the day’s second run through the 4.67-mile Asahi Kougen test as the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.

Beyond the battle for the overall win, it’s also a big week in WRC2, the second tier of international rallying. Emil Lindholm, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and the absent Andreas Mikkelsen each stand a chance of being crowned champion depending on how the action unfolds.

Mikkelsen, who tops the standings, is absent having already started seven rallies this year — the maximum permitted in the category. It means that Kajetanowicz and Lindholm will be the ones going head to head out on the stages and a reasonable finish for either driver would put Mikkelsen out of the running.

While the Skoda Fabia Evo rivals currently sit on identical points, Lindholm has the upper hand when dropped scores are taken into account. Drivers in WRC2 can discount their worst score which means, as it stands, Lindholm drops just three points compared to Kajetanowicz’s eight.

Emil Lindholm can displace the absent Andreas Mikkelsen as WRC2 champ with a strong result in Japan. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Other frontline WRC2 contenders include Teemu Suninen, Fabrizio Zaldivar and Gregoire Munster in a trio of Hyundai i20 N cars, plus Sami Pajari, who partners Lindholm in the Toksport Skoda squad.

Watch out, too, for the all-American crew of Sean Johnston and Alex Kihurani who make their first WRC2 start since July’s Rally Estonia. The duo will be looking to gain experience of the all-asphalt event in their Sainteloc-run Citroen C3 as they continue to firm up a full WRC2 program for 2023.

WRC Rally Japan, leading positions after SS1
1 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2m07.0s
2 Craig Breen/James Fulton (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +0.1s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +0.2s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +0.3s
5 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +0.6s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1.2s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1.9s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2.2s
9 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +3.1s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hamalainen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2 leader) +4.0s

Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.

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