Ott Tänak doesn’t do things without a good reason. It’s not what he’s about. So, when he reached the end of his last ever (let’s face it, it’s hard to imagine him going back…) stage in a Hyundai i20 N Rally1, he had a question of his own.
He wanted to know how his mate had got on.
Did Taka make the podium?
He did. Big grin. Now for a banal answer to the question coming his way.
Keen to deflect interest away from his own car, he wanted to shine a light on his former Toyota team-mate. So, he did.
“I heard you asked about me at the end of the stage,” grinned Takamoto Katsuta when he saw Tänak back in service an hour or so later.
“Thank you, my friend.”
Tänak’s appreciation of the pint-sized Japanese mirrored the Taka appeal around the whole route. For the whole week.
He was mobbed. Everywhere. But he was mobbed in a very neat, tidy and Japanese way. From before six in the morning and for the next 20-odd hours, there were fans standing outside the Toyota Gazoo Racing corner of the service park. If they thought there was a chance of spying their hero, there wasn’t a hope of them moving.
The reaction from the 10-deep crowd when they did see him?
Women of a certain age giggled, fellas stood, stared and the children waved the flags. There was no cheering, no chanting, just the near-silent admiration of a driver who has raised their country’s game and allowed them to dream the dream.
For Taka, Japan was that dream. He didn’t win. But he did the next best thing: he stood tall on the podium.
“The pressure has been high this week,” he said. “Of course, I understand the people want me to make a good result and I want to do this for them, for my team and for myself. It was not an easy rally and then when the rain came on Sunday, it was really tough.
“But I did it. I’m so proud and so pleased. The fans have been amazing. Did you see? So many. So many…
“It’s been really nice having my father competing in Japan as well. I was really happy for this. He had a small accident in his Yaris, which wasn’t so good. It was nice when I saw him at the finish. He was trying to talk about my result – but I said: “No! I have to ask; how do you feel after your crash?”
A weekend not to forget for the Katsutas.