Toyota Motor Corporation president and CEO Akio Toyoda is arguably the most important and influential figure in the world of cars. But he’s also very much one of us: he’s a rally fan. A proper one.
Toyoda’s love for rallying is infectious. His admiration for the drivers who do battle in cars of his colour, complete.
Every time Toyota scores well in the World Rally Championship, the team delivers the word of Toyoda.
For Rally Portugal winners Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin, the praise – as you would imagine – was fulsome.
“Elfyn and Scott, congratulations and thank you for bringing valuable points to the team,” said Toyota. “Turning their frustration in Croatia into power, they showed their strength on the difficult roads in Portugal.”
But it was Takamoto Katsuta’s fourth place that really caught Toyoda’s eye.
“Takamoto, congratulations on the best result of your career,” he added.
“When I checked the live results in the middle of the event, he was only 1.5 seconds behind Séb [Ogier] who was in third place.
“I was very impressed when he set the top times in Croatia, but I was even more surprised by his progress this time. I expect he will continue to surprise us in the future.”
Katsuta’s rate of improvement has been startling. After ending last year with three successive crashes, he hit the ground running with a trio of top-six finishes before landing a career-best fourth in Porto.
Katsuta is already Japan’s most successful driver, but the importance of developing a national hero into a global rally star is not lost on Toyoda.
“As Takamoto becomes a top driver,” Toyoda continued, “he will be faced with an environment that he has never experienced before and he may feel worried or lost then.
“But he can believe in me and my team, as our team always put drivers’ growth first and shares the joy of their improvements.
“We can continue to grow together.
“I was at Fuji Speedway this weekend for a 24 hours endurance race. I used a kind of magic word to my team at Fuji and I heard Jari-Matti [Latvala, team principal] also used the word to the team in Portugal.
“I always feel that Jari-Matti and I are working together nearby – even though we are physically so far apart. I really appreciate the team’s hard work during the weekend. Kiitos!
“Preparation for Sardinia starts right away, so we will keep working hard together.”
The Sardinia-based Rally Italy was one of those three successive rallies on which Katsuta crashed in 2020.
Asked if he was looking forward to righting the wrongs of last year’s experience, Katusta said: “Yeah, maybe. Not the good memories there.
“I am better for sure than that time, but still I have to do it a bit carefully on that rally because I know Sardinia is very, very tricky.
“So I really respect that rally. I’ll try to be steady and safe as much as possible, but I try to push as much as I can.
“This is key and I think I need to try a slightly different approach for that next rally to keep good confidence into the brand new rally in Safari.”