“This time we are here!”
Sixth place and four minutes down on the rally leader may not provide Takamoto Katsuta with plenty of reasons to smile considering he was two positions higher and two minutes closer on Rally Portugal.
But he was at least relieved to have made it through the Sassari – Argentiera stage of Rally Italy unscathed.
The Toyota Next Generation driver may have started 16 World Rally Championship rallies since his aggressive, end-over-end crash on Sassari – Argentiera 20 months ago, but as anybody who’s unfortunate enough to have been in any kind of car accident knows, you simply don’t forget.
Although Katsuta was in Sardinia last year and made it to the finish in a fine fourth place, this famous stage wasn’t part of the itinerary in 2021. It must’ve been nice to make it through there this time.
“Yes!” exclaimed Katsuta.
“Honestly, when I came through that corner, both passes, I completely killed the speed,” he explained.
“It’s not so easy to forget [the crash] to be honest but I think because if it’s like a normal corner, no problem. I care, but I don’t care so much. But that corner is anyway really, let’s say nasty, like really difficult and a very small mistake can happen.
“And still I’m not fully confident with the car and everything so I just backed off completely on that corner and the other corners just took care a bit more of the car, but yeah [I’m] happy.”
Katsuta was understandably happy to slay his demons, but he admitted there was “some disappointment” about his weekend as a whole.
Aside from a misjudged hairpin where his GR Yairs Rally1 stalled and failed to nose over a change in elevation at the apex, Katsuta had a clean rally – coping well with running third on the road on Friday.
But he ultimately struggled to find absolute confidence from his car – a growing theme of the season.
“I need to think of it in a positive way also [but] of course [there is] some disappointment, like we have no pace and some problems yesterday [Saturday],” he said.
“But anyway, you know, I was, let’s say, a little bit out of the pace where I wanted to be so I really need to improve something from my driving side of course, but also the car setup side as well.
“I wanted to be really smart this rally without any problems and mistakes but unfortunately some problems – this was not really good but of course this can happen easily.
“So we were able to fix and thanks to Aaron [Johnston, co-driver] very much because he did a very good job and the only thing that you know this time is a lot of cars have survived,” Katsuta added, considering why his pace and position wasn’t as strong as 12 months ago.
“For example last year only four cars survived this rally, but this year maybe seven cars [did] so then at this point I had to push more or like a little bit increase the pace at some point so that I was maybe more close to [my rivals ahead] if something happened, a puncture to somebody, then I can get one place up or something.
“Of course that’s never enough. I need to improve. I need to find more pace of course and also I need to feel more comfortable with the car.”
Katsuta lies fifth in the championship but is only five points adrift of M-Sport Ford’s Craig Breen.