Why a Sweden testing ‘loophole’ has a limited effect

Toyota's testing road can't compare to the heat of competition, according to Takamoto Katsuta


Takamoto Katsuta heads to Rally Sweden on the back foot relative to his Toyota team-mates for two reasons.

For one, his World Rally Championship season started on the back foot; seventh place on the Monte Carlo Rally after sliding off the road was not a good way to start has tenure as a fully-fledged Toyota factory driver: “It’s painful when you see the times but it was because of my mistake, so I had to accept it,” he told DirtFish.

But the bigger dent in his Sweden preparation, relative to his team-mates, was in Finnish snow. As Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä racked up miles on Arctic Lapland Rally, Katsuta could only study the data that his team-mates generated.

There’s a potential saving grace, though. Toyota can test on winter snow as much as it wants: its nominated permanent test site, which has no limitations on the number of days it can be utilized for, is near its Jyväskylä headquarters. And there’s plenty of snow about at the moment.


Toyota's Japanese star heads to Sweden down on snow mileage compared to his team-mates

It’s the same story in the Hyundai camp: with its permanent test site nominated in the Jämsä municipality, only an hour south of Toyota HQ, Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and Esapekka Lappi could test away to their heart’s content.

For Katsuta and his lack of Arctic mileage, there’s an easy way to catch up on snow mileage, in theory. A few extra days around Jyväskylä and he’ll be raring to go.

But as he explained, it doesn’t quite work that way.

“The problem is you know the road pretty well,” Katsuta pointed out.

“Rally is always a different test. The best way [to test] is always to do a rally. You do recce and find the feeling and confidence on a new stage. This makes you more comfortable for new stages in Sweden.

“I don’t know how many stages are new in Sweden, we had some stages last year, so hopefully the benefit is not massive.”

Katsuta’s career-breakthrough result was on Rally Sweden six years ago, winning the WRC2 class in a Ford Fiesta R5. He’s honed his driving through many winters spent on Finnish snow; he may be Japanese but Sweden is where he feels at home at the wheel of a rally car.


Katsuta took his first WRC2 victory on Rally Sweden in 2018

That makes next week’s event a key target to score a podium finish and contribute to Toyota’s efforts to win the manufacturers’ championship. But Katsuta was keen to downplay his odds, in light of the Finnish part-timers in third cars next week.

“It’s for sure one of my favorite rallies,” said Katsuta, “so I will try to push as much as I can. The only thing is that Esapekka and Kalle, proper Finnish guys, are going there, so it’s going to be very difficult to take a good result.

“For sure the car is working well generally so I’ll just do my best. Kalle and Esapekka will be very quick; I just need to have full confidence to push.”