Toyota’s search for another Katsuta continues

Now in its fourth generation, Toyota’s young driver program is one of the best things for Japanese rallying


Has there ever been a better time to be a Japanese rally fan? It’s hard to remember one. And the good news? It just keeps on getting better as Toyota begins its search for yet more talented drivers to sit at the World Rally Championship table.

With an outstanding round of the WRC, a manufacturer that’s won everything the world championship has to offer in the past three years and a driver – Takamoto Katsuta – who stands on the verge of becoming the first Japanese winner of a WRC round in 33 years, Japanese rallying is looking pretty healthy right now.

Toyota has no interest in resting on its laurels, however.

After starting the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program in 2015 and delivering Katsuta to a full-time WRC campaign, the search for the second generation of drivers began in 2021. Hikaru Kogure and Yuki Yamamoto are the product of that search and are currently tackling WRC2 rounds in a Toyota GR Yaris Rally2. The third generation was completed at the end of last year, with Shotaro Goto and Takumi Matsushita about to start their journey with a selection of European rallies.


Second-generation TGR Challenge Program driver Yuki Yamamoto finished 10th in WRC2 on Rally Sweden

With Katsuta having officially graduated and four more drivers engaged in the program at varying levels, it’s time for Toyota to start the search for the next two.

The selection process for generation four is about to get under way and will run through the remainder of this season.

As well as taking young Japanese drivers through the usual application process, one finalist will also qualify by being the best performer in the Morizo Challenge Cup, a new category in the Japanese Rally Championship.

Those drivers selected for the fourth generation of the program will begin their full training based out of Jyväskylä, Finland in January next year.

Chief instructor on the program Mikko Hirvonen is a 15-time world rally winner who knows what it takes to make it to the very top of the sport. He’s quick to point out, however, that previous experience is not a prerequisite for the program.


Third-generation drivers Shotaro Goto and Takumi Matsushita are benefiting from Hirvonen's guidance

The superstar Finn said: “It is really nice to see how much effort Toyota Gazoo Racing is putting into the WRC Challenge Program, providing opportunities for more young people to get into rallying.

“After a very good experience with the approach that we took for the selection last year, we are ready to do it again later this year, and weʼre really excited to see how much talent we can discover. Just like last year, we want to open up this opportunity to everybody and to maybe try and find that person who would otherwise not have the possibility to enter motorsport at a high level.

“Our third generation of drivers had very limited competition experience when they joined us, but we really found some great natural talent for driving and think this is an incredible way to give people a chance to chase their dreams. This is the way that Toyota wants to do it: to not look necessarily for an experienced background in motorsport, but rather to look at peopleʼs talent, their passion and how they can handle a car.”