How Toyota selected its latest stars

Two drivers have been chosen to follow in Takamoto Katsuta’s WRC Challenge Program footsteps. Here’s how:


So, no pressure then. Shotaro Goto and Takumi Matsushita have landed rallying’s dream ticket as the latest drivers to be selected for Toyota’s WRC Challenge Program.

The difference this time? The process was opened to the whole of the country, with more than 70 drivers taking part in the first level of selection at Fuji Speedway in September. From there, six drivers were bound for five days of driving in Lapland last month, with Goto and Matsushita selected for the third generation of the Japanese manufacturer’s campaign to deliver a homegrown world champion.

Chief instructor Mikko Hirvonen is a man who knows what it takes to succeed at the sport’s highest level, having won 15 rounds of the world championship. The Finn is delighted to have fine-tuned the selection process to deliver what Toyota wants.

Four-time WRC runner-up Hirvonen said: “This is the third time we have selected new drivers for the WRC Challenge Program and the first time we could do it like Toyota really wants to, and open up the opportunity to anyone who is interested regardless of their experience.


“This time we could go to Fuji Speedway and see, out of all the applicants, who had talent and who could drive fast, and then invite the best to Finland.”

Allowing all comers widened the net considerably, but it also brought greater disparities in the level of experience behind the wheel.

“Some of them had minimal background in motorsport or driving,” said Hirvonen. “We didn’t really know what to expect, but we were really positively surprised by the level of the whole group. It just shows that this is a great opportunity for people who may otherwise have no opportunity to get into motorsport at this level.”

With the very first WRC Challenge Program driver Takamoto Katsuta having graduated to a full-time Toyota works drive for 2024, Goto and Matsushita join incumbents Hikaru Kogure and Yuki Yamamoto.

“Shotaro [Goto] has only done one year of racing through university,” said Hirvonen, “but the way he could adapt his driving to our instructions was really impressive, and he improved already quite a lot across the week.

“Takumi [Matsushita] has done just one rally before but he has a really good technical understanding about the mechanical side, and he was able to drive all of the different cars at a good level straight away. Neither has much experience in competition but both were really strong and we are really excited to start working with them.


“Now the real work starts, especially on the pacenote side which is a big part of rallying, but we are sure they can reach a good level soon.”

The pair will move from Japan to Finland in the spring, when the training process ramps up towards a maiden WRC Challenge Program competitive debut in the summer. They will drive a Rally4 car on a selection of national rallies in Europe for the remainder of 2024.

Goto, who overcame a steady start to win in Lapland, said: “At the start of the week I noticed that I was not learning as quickly as some other drivers, which was mentally tough. I was a little bit worried about the final result, so I am very happy to be selected.

“My motivation has always been to be a better driver. Now I have been given this fantastic opportunity in a great environment, and I am really excited to have this chance to become a better driver.


It is a big life-changing event for someone like me, who did not have the chance to be part of motorsport already from a young age. This is an unbelievably good opportunity to join the motorsport environment.”

A similarly excited Matsushita talked about what he’d learned from his week in the Arctic Circle alongside Hirvonen. He added: “I learned a lot from the driving sessions in Lapland: the most important thing was probably left-foot braking and to drive more with the throttle and brake than with my hands. I really appreciate TGR for giving me this big challenge. I have little experience in rallying so I need to learn a lot from the pacenote training and then driving in rallies.”

Kogure and Yamamoto will move up from Rally4 to Rally2 level rallying this season.