This season is destined to be a big one for Toyota’s protégé Takamoto Katsuta. For the first time in his short career, the Japanese will start every single round of the World Rally Championship in a Toyota Yaris WRC. Talk about a golden opportunity.
But with opportunity comes jeopardy, and with jeopardy comes stress and with stress comes, potentially, an accident. One Finn – a rather successful, multiple championship-winning Finn at that – has noticed that Katsuta could benefit from being more relaxed on rallies and putting less pressure on himself could help ensure he secures the top results that are clearly within him.
That Finn is Juho Hänninen, who will be working closely with Katsuta as a tutor throughout the year.
“I have worked with him for the last two years and sometimes I have been with him in the testing and I remember really well I was with him when he did his proper forest stage two years ago with the Yaris,” Hänninen tells DirtFish.
“So I know him and I know his driving. We’ve done plenty of things but now we start to work let’s say much more closely together.”
You might not know it, but Hänninen remains a busy man despite his full-time driving career ending four years ago now in 2017. The 2010 IRC, 2011 SWRC and 2012 ERC champion has very much been a fixture behind-the-scenes at Toyota since being replaced in the team’s driver line-up by Ott Tänak.
Aside from testing privately and even publicly with an entry into the 2019 Rally Italy purely for testing purposes, Hänninen has acted as gravel note crew for Katsuta. He’s also co-driven for Jari-Matti Latvala not just on historic rallies in a Celica GT-4 but as high as WRC level, sitting beside Toyota’ new team principal on last year’s Rally Sweden.
It’s therefore hard to think of a better man to tutor Toyota’s rising junior. Hänninen knows how Toyota works both operationally and competitively and he’s competing in a Yaris WRC on the Arctic Lapland Rally in Finland this weekend. Hänninen is no stranger to success, having dominated the Super 2000 era of rallying in a Škoda, and he is now ready to pass on his wisdom to the next generation and more specifically, a driver he believes has clear potential in Katsuta.
“I think from what I have seen, having been with him, the speed is there, there’s no doubt [about that] and he’s a really good talented driver,” he says.
“And for sure as we saw in Estonia and mainly now in Monza, he had good stage times and then the powerstage [win]. But at the same time, there still some small things [to work on like] what happened on the Thursday evening, the mistake in Monza and basically there’s some hesitating from time to time and I want to work to get him a more relaxed feeling on the rallies and a more confident feeling.
“To get a relaxed drive on the stage, have more confidence and to not worry about things I think that will help a lot and that way we will see more and more good stage times and good results at the end of the rallies.”
Hänninen is no stranger to the tutoring process, having been shown a trick or two from another underrated Finn in the past.
“That’s a good question,” Hänninen replies when DirtFish asks if he was ever taught much by another driver in his early career.
“OK, in the first years when it was more like a hobby then I just drove and tried to figure out myself what I should do and how I should do it but after some years and when I got a bit more help from Finland then Lasse Lampi started to help me and at that time he gave me a bit advice and ideas how I should drive and what to do, so he helped on that point.”
For the uninitiated, Lasse Lampi was the man Tommi Mäkinen trusted and turned to help him develop the Mitsubishi Lancer in the late 1990s which of course Mäkinen used to claim four world titles on the bounce. Not a bad man to have showing you a trick or two.
Of course, the World Rally Championship title won’t be the target for Katsuta – at least not yet with that responsibility falling to lead drivers Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans – but in Hänninen he now has a fast and wise source that he can tap into at freewill.
Hänninen just hopes that he can help Katsuta realize his true potential so that he can start converting his promise into cold, hard results.
“If I can see, and I hope that I will, that I’m able to help him somehow and at the same time as I said that I know that there’s potential, I know that he has speed so just get that speed out constantly and we will see it by results at the end of the rallies,” he says.
“That’s where we are aiming and that’s our target. I’ll do what I can and hopefully, I’m able to help him to get the good results.”