Takamoto Katsuta’s season had led up to Rally Japan. In fact, his entire World Rally Championship career had.
Initially chasing a career in open-wheel racing, Katsuta made the full-time switch to rallying in 2015. Forging a career in racing was going to be difficult, as it would be in rallying too, but Katsuta had heard of an exciting program that sounded perfect for him.
Toyota’s WRC Challenge Program. The aim? Get a Japanese driver in the WRC.
Clearly, with Katsuta making the step up to contest half of next season with the main Toyota Gazoo Racing concern, it worked. But last weekend’s podium on Japanese soil was the ultimate proof.
During the course of 2022, Katsuta has built up a reputation for being ‘Mr Consistent’, having only missed out on a points-scoring finish once in New Zealand.
But midway through the season he grabbed his second consecutive Safari Rally Kenya podium before following that up at the season finale in Japan.
Katsuta hadn’t expected such a dream result – despite all the work he had put in to try and achieve it. Yes, he was assisted by the fact that others ahead of him ran into problems, but he still had to be quick enough to be in with a shout of a podium in the first place.
And while Katsuta understands why he may have had some people doubt his ability over the years, given when he first arrived on the rallying scene he didn’t exactly set the world on fire with his pace, he hopes this proves to them that he is capable and fast enough to compete with the very best.
“Of course in the beginning I was not good,” Katsuta told DirtFish, reflecting on his first venture into rallying.
“Of course I understand why they were saying [this], but still many things, somebody can easily say it’s not possible.
“But I’m trying to prove that it is possible and in the future I am trying to get even, trying to better push.
“And yeah, that moment was very tough, but it gave me the big motivation to prove that I can do it.”
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala was also suitably impressed with Katsuta’s result in Japan, even more so because Katsuta met the objective Toyota set him before the season begun.
“We have not given any place to him so he had to fight for himself, he had to reach this goal himself,” said Latvala.
“So this is really good, because we had two targets for him: to get two podiums during the season and now he reached both.
“I am really amazed. He has done a really good job step by step, and very happy to see.”
A Rally Japan podium shouldn’t be the tip of the iceberg for Katsuta either. Not now he’s earned himself such an important seat by being promoted from Toyota’s Next Generation entry. It won’t come without its challenges, but he’s in the right place – and right vein of form – to do it justice.
Do that, and that really would be the perfect way to prove the doubters wrong. That is if a Rally Japan podium wasn’t already.