Takamoto Katsuta says he “can’t promise” a repeat podium on this year’s Safari Rally Kenya, even if he’s aware that the punishing nature of the rally could manufacture a surprise result.
Katsuta scored his first (and so far only) World Rally Championship podium on last year’s Safari. It was the peak in a fantastic run of form that Katsuta struggled to maintain into the second half of the year.
This season, now driving for a manufacturer entrant in Toyota Next Generation, Katsuta’s season has been mixed with some real highs in Sweden and Portugal with a brace of fourth places but also some trickier events like Croatia where he struggled for any confidence and pace all weekend.
Katsuta’s biggest bugbear in the new-for-2022 Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 has been finding total comfort in the car, and he’s aware that could once again hamper him in Africa.
Considering the elements of good fortune he encountered last year, like Thierry Neuville’s final day retirement and Ott Tänak’s wipers failing in the rain, Katsuta feels any realistic talk of going one better in 2022 than he did last year is wide of the mark.
“I can’t promise it to be honest,” Katsuta told DirtFish when asked if he could take a podium or even win.
“You never know what’s going to happen and even when you are taking care, still something can happen.
“Of course last year I had luck and everything, I had the damper broken but still we were able to fix it and continue so we were very lucky.
“And hopefully this year we also have some more good luck. I need to find more pace of course and also I need to feel more comfortable with the car.”
In a sense Katsuta is right. Talking up victory chances ahead of a WRC event isn’t always the smartest move as it can set the bar too high, leaving too much scope for failure. And he’s more than self-aware enough to know that on raw pace, he’s not likely to be setting the timing screens purple this week.
But, as he so often does, Katsuta is doing himself a bit of a disservice.
Fourth, sixth, fourth, sixth – these scores from Katsuta’s last four WRC events aren’t podium results, but they’re exactly the same as what Katsuta managed in the lead-up to Kenya last year (albeit in a different order). And look what happened then.
Correlation does not equal causation but the point stands – Katsuta has a knack for getting his car to the end, and ultimately that’s the key skill needed in Kenya.
Will that carry him one step higher in 2022? It may require some extraordinary circumstances, but if Katsuta – at his current level of experience and skill – is going to win or take a podium anywhere, Safari Rally Kenya feels like the place he’ll do it.