Slow and steady wins the race. That’s a thing, right? Maybe in fairytale stories, but not often when it comes to rallying.
But having said that, it was an approach that one young driver adopted on Croatia, and with hindsight, it’s exactly how another under mounting pressure, Adrien Fourmaux, should have played it too.
At no point on Croatia Rally did Takamato Katsuta light up the timing screen. In fact, it would be fair to say that he was fairly anonymous for the entire rally.
Most of his stage times were in the lower half of the top 10, although on SS7 he did locate some grip and confidence to end up fifth fastest, having set an identical time to team-mate Elfyn Evans.
On Friday, Katsuta was initially at a loss to explain why he was struggling. He couldn’t find any grip and he lost all confidence in the car. Being in that position is no doubt frustrating, especially when you know your rivals are coping better with the conditions.
It would be easy to push, to try too hard to find something, anything that would gain time, but Katsuta opted not to chance it. Instead, rather than trying harder, he backed off the power – literally on SS11 when he turned off his Toyota’s hybrid unit.
He cruised around some of the opening stages, almost at recce speed on some that were completely sodden in water, obviously losing time to the front, but at least making it to the end.
And that’s what it was about: making it to the end. He knew he could learn some valuable lessons that will leave him in good stead for future rallies.
“It was maybe the biggest learning for me because there were so many changes, conditions and weather, and at same time, a new car on this type of condition,” Katsuta explained to DirtFish.
“I had to really need to see what was going on and that’s where the margin spot is very small.
“So I had to find this very small spot, but if you are [not close enough] you are very far away, if you little bit too much going, then you easily crash. So that was really difficult to find this spot.
“So now time to get as much as possible, to learn from the conditions and get better on this type of rallies.
“This rally I had to be patient, but yeah, let’s say it was very frustrating. But hopefully this experience and feeling will help for the next few rallies.”
But while Katsuta’s approach may not have been the most exciting to follow and watch, it did pay off.
With plenty of Rally1 drivers running into a variety of problems, including punctures, spins, missing junctions and ending up in banks, Katsuta kept everything tidy and clean to finish the rally in sixth position.
That’s not a bad result for someone who spent more time getting off the throttle than on it, and no doubt pleased the likes of Jari-Matti Latvala in making it to the end, gaining plenty of data and experience.
And that’s where M-Sport’s Adrien Forumaux missed a trick. Having failed to finish a rally this year, Croatia was the perfect place for him to showcase what he can do.
There’s no denying that he’s a fast driver, but he proved once again that he’s trying too hard.
Fourmaux was trying to tackle every stage at maximum attack, but there was no need to. He knew what his instructions were: make it to the end.
But in the end, his eagerness got the better of him, he made a mistake and ended up in a farmer’s field.
Of course, it all made a great story for us watching, but for Fourmaux, it put his career even further in the balance with the news that he may not even start the next WRC round.
He needs to learn that sometimes the best approach is not to go flat out. Sometimes it is better to leave some margin on the table, and Katusta is the perfect example of that.
Put aside his Croatia result for a second, Katsuta has been one of the most consistent Rally1 drivers all year.
He hasn’t fought at the very front, but after finishing eighth, fourth and sixth in the first three rallies, in addition to last year’s season-ending seventh at Monza, it’s clear to see that Katsuta is doing a solid job.
He’s bringing the GR Yaris home every time, ensuring that points are being added to the tally, whilst also learning at a rate of knots.
What has Fourmaux learnt this year? Not a lot because he hasn’t completed many stages.
Yes everyone wants to be fast and fighting for wins, but at the same time you have to learn to walk before you can run.
Fourmaux’s trying to leap forward to the running stage before walking right now, and it’s clearly not working.
And while he’d like to think he could be regularly faster than Katsuta over the course of a season, right now, adopting the Toyota driver’s approach to rallying might be the best way to find his feet and start to become the rally driver everyone knows he can be.