Takamoto Katsuta doubted that he could do it. He told DirtFish as much. Another Safari Rally Kenya podium? Forget it.
“I can’t promise it to be honest,” he said.
Katsuta may not have promised it, but he delivered it anyway. This time it was third place, not second, but in many respects it was a more impressive and more complete performance.
But the fact Katsuta was able to stand on the podium once again in Africa wasn’t actually what should please him most – strangely.
It’s the bugbear of his season that he managed to correct that was the most impressive – and important – aspect of Katsuta’s Safari.
As he explained before the rally: “I need to find more pace of course and also I need to feel more comfortable with the car.”
And that’s exactly what he did on the Safari, and what he hasn’t done for much of the season.
Yes, Katsuta drove sensibly and judged his performance to perfection. Yes, Katsuta helped Toyota make modern history and gave his co-driver Aaron Johnston his first ever WRC podium. And yes, Katsuta avoided any of the mistakes that tripped up others of equivalent experience.
But, if we’re honest, we knew he was capable of that before the Safari. Last weekend hasn’t changed that perception. But genuinely strong speed this season and feeling confident with the GR Yaris Rally1? Kenya provided buoyant proof that Katsuta’s on top of it.
“Everything is going well and I feel very comfortable in the car,” he told DirtFish on Friday, and he doubled down.
“Especially the first two stages I was pushing too much, I was just trying to be smart and smooth and without [taking] any risks so that was quite good time and also I felt very comfortable with the car.”
Feeling at one with the car is a sensation only Katsuta can judge if it’s there or not. But we can confidently say that when he says he feels comfortable, he’s noticeably on the pace. The proof is in the stage times.
Setting second fastest times on half of Friday’s loop of stages was a big statement of intent, and provides great promise for the upcoming rallies where keeping your foot in it the longest will pay dividends.
The podium was great, of course it was. As Katsuta put it: “Two years here on the podium, it’s such a nice memory.”
But the step he took in gelling with his Toyota will be far more important for Katsuta’s future WRC career than adding another trophy to the cabinet.