When Toyota confirmed it would be coming back to the World Rally Championship in 2016, Akio Toyoda made it very clear – this wasn’t just about the car. Japan needed a car, a driver and an event.
Imagine the Toyota CEO and president’s pride when he watched a Japanese driver of a Japanese car finish on the podium of a Japanese WRC round in November last year. Job done.
Toyoda’s commitment was to bring a Japanese to Toyota’s manufacturer WRC team.
This week Takamoto Katsuta does just that. So now, is it job done for the Toyota WRC Challenge Program?
Not a bit of it.
The show will go on as the next generation take on the WRC for the first time in Sweden this week.
Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala explained the benefits to DirtFish: “The Challenge Program brings attention both in Japan and worldwide. It helps to raise the market and awareness.
“In Japan we need a Japanese driver, it’s so important we have Taka there now, but we know there are more guys in line to come and this is going to help even more young drivers to get into the sport – they can see that they can become a professional rally driver.
“These opportunities should create more drivers in the national level and help them get to the top level. This is very, very important. In Japan last year, we saw how big and how popular Taka had become – it’s fantastic.
“Japanese fans are so dedicated, enthusiastic and so into the sport, when we can get the rallying to the heart of Japanese fans we can get the new audience to the sport. It’s going forwards all the time.”
Yuki Yamamoto, Nao Otake and Hikaru Kogure are the names to look out for this weekend and beyond.
All three will drive Renault Clio Rally4s and will be co-driven by Finns.