It’s becoming impossible not to notice now.
Eighth. Fourth. Sixth. Fourth. Sixth. Third. Fifth. Sixth.
He’s always there. Takamoto Katsuta and World Rally Championship points seem to be eternally wed.
There’s only one driver who can boast as consistent a results card, and it’s the one who’s booked a one-way ticket to the world title.
In all honesty, it’s the sort of form that makes you wonder how long Toyota will wait before it promotes Katsuta into its full works team.
Such consistency is what any manufacturer team craves from its third driver: solid, dependable performances. And Katsuta comes with the added benefit of podium potential too.
That’s not the part that 2022 has taught us though. We saw last year that Katsuta has good speed – that run of consecutive sixth, then fourth place finishes that culminated in a Safari Rally Kenya podium showed it in abundance.
But what followed in the second half of the year showed he still had plenty more to learn. There was plenty of misfortune – almost solely related to his co-drivers – but equally plenty of driving mistakes: the massive crash in Ypres, another crash in Finland, a smash into the barrier of the first stage of Spain.
Katsuta made a superb start, but the wheels came off the bus. This year he made a slightly more under-the-radar start, but no wheels have fallen off. Figurative bus, or pukka Toyota GR Yaris Rally1.
Finland was yet another illustration of the driver Katsuta has become.
Yes, the pace deficit to his team-mates was maybe larger than he and the outside world had anticipated – a small spin on the first forest stage kind of set the tone in that regard, and a high-speed one on Saturday was a heart-stopper.
But he didn’t overdrive it in a bid to claw back the time. He accepted the mistake, accepted his position, didn’t get impatient and he yet again brought the car home in the points – and without even so much as a layer of paint missing.
|SS2 Laukaa 1||10th|
|SS3 Lankamaa 1||6th|
|SS4 Laukaa 2||6th|
|SS6 Harju 2||1st|
|SS7 Ässämäki 1||5th|
|SS8 Sahloinen – Moksi 1||6th|
|SS9 Ässämäki 2||7th|
|SS10 Sahloinen – Moksi 2||7th|
|SS11 Päijälä 1||7th|
|SS12 Rapsula 1||7th|
|SS13 Patajoki 1||6th|
|SS14 Vekkula 1||6th|
|SS15 Päijälä 2||5th|
|SS16 Rapsula 2||6th|
|SS17 Patajoki 2||6th|
|SS18 Vekkula 2||9th|
|SS19 Oittila 1||6th|
|SS20 Ruuhimäki 1||5th|
|SS21 Oittila 2||5th|
|SS22 Ruuhimäki 2||6th|
It was a particularly sweet feeling and important accomplishment given, as was the case in Estonia three weeks earlier, Katsuta had never finished Rally Finland before last weekend.
“Yeah, exactly,” Katsuta told DirtFish.
“I finally finished my second home rally and, yeah, this will help for the future, my experience side and I can push more in the future on this rally.”
A true mark of Katsuta’s consistency can be found in his Rally Finland stage times.
He was just always in the ballpark. He’s established such a solid base and foundation to build from now and, as a result, he can begin concentrating on finding those last tenths to consistently fight at the front.
After all, as great a trait as being consistent is, no driver wants to be known as Mr Consistent unless they’re winning week in, week out.
This is where Katsuta now finds himself. He’s a highly motivated professional that, it must be said, can be very hard on himself, so he’s not looking at his strong run and patting himself on the back.
Instead, he’s frustrated that he’s not been able to pick up as much pace as he’d have liked.
“At some point I need to try to take more risk and more pace to make more better times,” he said.
“So, this is my next target.”
Target locked; can he achieve it? Yes. Does he need to achieve it right now? No.
Katsuta’s greatest friend of late has been his impressive levels of patience. He can’t afford to lose that when building his confidence and going for broke on future WRC stages.
In short, he can’t sacrifice consistency for speed. As there’s plenty of drivers that are fast – Katsuta is among them – but there’s not so many that have the ability to keep it sunny side up.
But Katsuta is right, one day he will need to become a little bit faster. That day will come. He’s far from a slow driver already, he just isn’t bang on the pace in every single condition and scenario yet. But you can’t be without the experience.
Next season could therefore be a massively exciting one. A Katsuta that can successfully marry a bit more speed with his currently impeccable consistency would be a very frightening prospect indeed.
That’s a Katsuta Jari-Matti Latvala simply couldn’t say no to.