Winning is everything to any competitor in any form of motorsport. But winning at home always means that little bit more.
The focus here is generally on the driver, who in World Rally Championship terms is bound to benefit from a dose of local knowledge, passionate support and just general familiarity with their surroundings.
But the will to succeed on home soil extends to manufacturers as well; not least because it’s the ultimate promotional material for their product.
A win at home is something nigh-on all the greats of the WRC have done – Citroën, Volkswagen, Lancia, Peugeot, Subaru etc – although not always immediately.
Volkswagen famously won 43 of the 52 events it entered between 2013-’16 with its all-conquering Polo R WRC, and was even victorious on all but one rally in 2014.
That one rally? Its home event in Germany. The year prior VW had missed out on home glory too – failing to even feature on the podium. In 2015 the team would put that right with an emphatic 1-2-3, but for a while a home win looked like the one that would get away.
There are other brands which sealed the deal far faster. Take Subaru for example, which secured a home win at the first time of asking on Rally Japan in 2004.
Toyota currently finds itself in pursuit of that elusive first home win.
The marque’s WRC history is illustrious, with 77 rally wins and a combined 16 titles (nine for drivers and seven manufacturers’ crowns). In the modern era it has not been beaten to a championship since Hyundai grabbed the manufacturers’ prize in 2020.
But at its first opportunity to bring home the Rally Japan winner’s trophy, it was beaten by arch rival Hyundai which recorded a 1-2 finish to further rub salt into Toyota’s wounds.
Takamoto Katsuta saved face for the local squad by securing third place – an extremely popular result given Taka’s affability and the fact he was a Japanese driver on the podium.
But with such an intense focus on the entire team in Japan, a rally based in Toyota city, winning the event is verging on a need, not just a desire.
“It’s a really important rally for us to do something in front of a home crowd there,” Toyota technical director Tom Fowler told DirtFish.
“Of course many of the spectators will be employees of Toyota, and a lot of interest for us to go there to win.
“I mean it’s difficult to put into perspective what each different kind of achievement means because of course we’ve had lots of different things which have been proud moments during the time so far.
“Of course winning in Finland [with the rally team based in Finland] so many times has been very important. But to win in Japan…
“Last year already to have Taka on the podium, I know how important it was for him. So to win the rally overall would be really important.”
Toyota was more competitive in Japan last year than the final classification suggests.
Elfyn Evans was within a second of Hyundai’s rally winner Thierry Neuville on the final day before a tire change dumped him to fifth.
Sébastien Ogier meanwhile led after the opening stage but a puncture ended his victory hopes early. Without the flat, he looked to have the pace to win.
Ogier will be back again this year to try and triumph for Toyota.
“Of course it’s one of the reasons the team are still four cars there, because for a while I was not even sure to go in this rally and I think for sure, as Toyota drivers, you feel the responsibility to try and deliver the win at home which is always a bit special. Even if the main targets are achieved for the team this season, both championships already,” Ogier told DirtFish.
“But still home soil win is always important as well so we will try that, and we have seen last year it’s normally a rally where start position doesn’t really affect anything, it’s between steps all the time so there is not so many cuts, road conditions should stay stable and hopefully we can have a good fight.”
As Ogier mentioned there are no championships left to win – Toyota has already sewn those up – so the drivers only have one instruction from their team principal Jari-Matti Latvala.
“Now that we have secured all three titles once again, the clear target that remains is to win Rally Japan, which is one of two home events for us.
“Last year, we could get Takamoto onto the podium in front of his home fans which was really nice, but everybody is really motivated to get the win this time.
“We will have all four drivers there and they don’t really need to worry about the championship anymore, so they are free to fully attack the rally and target the victory.”
Next week, nothing else will do.