The lesson Katsuta must learn from Fourmaux

Fourmaux has shown signs of learning from a mistake that Katsuta was guilty of on Rally Sweden


Rally Sweden was lining up to be an absolute cracker on Saturday morning. The two world champions had binned it off on Friday and two drivers needing to prove a point were suddenly in the box seat to make that happen.

Kalle Rovanperä and Ott Tänak dumping their cars in snowbanks and retiring opened the door wide open for Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta. And now Lappi is on the verge of ending a six-year wait for a World Rally Championship win.

Katsuta needed a monkey off his back too. Japan last year had shown the potential pace within him – but he’d chucked it off the road early doors and that pace was not rewarded.

But here we are, on a Saturday, facing a familiar story. Some promising speed came to nothing and the fortunes of the GR Yaris Rally1 adorned with the flag of the rising sun ended up setting to darkness again. His car ended up in service wrecked after a high-speed off into a snowbank.

Cast your mind back to Saturday afternoon on Rally Italy, two years ago. Adrien Fourmaux was running in fifth place, fighting to keep Rovanperä, only 9.3 seconds adrift, behind him.


“I can see that Kalle is pushing,” said Fourmaux at the end of Coiluna-Loelle. “We will see – it will be interesting to stay in front of him for tomorrow.”

On the very next stage, Fourmaux sent his Ford Puma off the road, into some foliage and out of the rally.

It seemed his focus was on the battle, not on the road.

Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala knows this business as well as anyone. He knew the danger of Katsuta getting sucked into a leaderboard-based battle with the lead Hyundai.

“This morning when we had a talk I just told him not to think about too much Esapekka, just focus on his own performance, carry on with the same speed,” Latvala told DirtFish.


“I said to him that with that speed what you’re doing, the result will come. Just don’t think about too much Esapekka and his performance. Focus on your own, put the energy on your own driving.”

After Saturday’s first stage, it would have been easy to get sidetracked. Katsuta had taken 2.3s out of Lappi and the lead had shrunk to only 0.9s. Stretch just a little bit further and the lead was there to grab, surely.

So Katsuta pushed on. He arrived at a very fast right-hander with just a touch too much pace, slid wide and glanced the left rear of his black Yaris against the pristine white snowbank. It careered to a halt, enveloped in snow from all sides.

By the time Katsuta got back to service, he’d already recognized his mistake: “For sure I had a good pace, so we could do a better job even in the first one in the morning. But obviously I was pushing way too much.”

Trying to run before you know how to walk was another Fourmaux issue. Too much risk too soon ended with too many crashes. He was sent down a division and now, in the second position on Sweden’s leaderboard that Katsuta once occupied, Fourmaux is on the verge of a career-best result.

He spent the entire day battling Evans and, while he had a bit of a wobbly moment on the day-ending Umeå test, he was otherwise in control and not getting distracted.


It’s a lesson Latvala believes Katsuta still needs to learn.

“I think what happens is that Taka is trying to lift up the speed too quickly. He wants to beat, he wants to gain that position, the podium or the win, but he wants too much too soon. Raising up the level of the speed suddenly, one level, brings higher risks.

“This is something we will try to avoid in the future. You need to build up the speed so that it comes progressively. One quick kick, you can give it for one stage, but if you give it all the time then it can end up badly.”

Toyota goes about management a bit differently from arch-rival Hyundai. Having a former driver at the helm can mean an alternative approach. In Latvala’s case, it at least garners some sympathy for Katsuta’s desire to push on and compete.

But he knows that there’s a problematic pattern that needs to be broken out of.

“We need to make him understand that if we go back and we look at the results, if we look at the events and we compare them, sometimes you might come a little bit blind on them. We need to look them carefully through and look at the pattern to make him understand what is the situation with that.

“I can’t blame Taka, but he tried to win and he had the options. Then when you are in the fight, this can happen, but of course, we want to see him in the future, coming to the finish with that great result.”

Fourmaux, the driver once maligned for getting distracted by the heat of battle and chucking it off the road, is three stages from becoming precisely that driver: the one that comes to the finish with a great result.

It’s been a long road for M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson to get his young charge to this point. Millions have been spent on broken Pumas. Second chances were handed out; the classic M-Sport tactic of dropping a youngster back down a rung to rebuild was deployed once more.


Now the Rally Jeunes winner is on the verge of coming good.

Wilson’s past the point of drilling into Fourmaux what has to happen. He’s spent years doing it – now it’s time for him to get the job done.

“He’s had quite a few hair-dryer treatments, so I think he understands what he needs to do,” said Wilson.

“You have to understand what’s happened to world champions on this event. The mistakes that have been made, how easy it is to make mistakes.

“But I have to say, from what I’ve seen, looking at the car, there’s very, very few marks or damage on the car. He’s been very neat. We’ve spent a lot of time on how you can preserve the tires, which means you have to do a very clean driving style.

“All I’ve said is: ‘Just carry on as you are, but don’t get drawn into a battle.’”

If Fourmaux brings his Puma home in one piece, on the podium, this Sunday, he’ll have proven beyond doubt that he’s learned the lesson that Katsuta is still working on.