Takamoto Katsuta won’t have it. He just won’t. DirtFish is trying to convince Toyota’s Japanese star that his start to the season has been strong.
Eventually, Katsuta’s characteristic humility lets us in.
“OK, I think 50:50.” he says. “Fifty I am a bit happy and 50 I think I should be better.”
Let’s face it, a brace of top-sixes – his two best World Rally Championship results – on rounds one and two are a whole heap rosier than when Taka-san was sitting on a Monza wall thinking about his fourth day-ending mistake in three rallies.
Little wonder he was a touch tense when he landed on the French side of the Alps six weeks after offering Italy and 2020 the big ciao.
“I was nervous before Monte Carlo,” he says, “too nervous. It was too much. The end of last year was hard. There was the crash in Estonia and Sardinia and then the stupid mistake in Monza. It was quite hard for the mental side.
“It was the end of the year and I was thinking I would be able to make a reset and change my focus to what I needed to do this season. But I was really nervous. I didn’t test the new Pirelli slick at all before the start and I was struggling when the grip was changing; when we went from snow to ice. I wasn’t happy in these conditions.”
It’s not always ideal, at these moments, to be sharing a stable with a seven-time world champion who’s on his way to an eighth Monte win; a man who just gets what the road is doing.
You talk about two sixth places; they are the same number, but very different results. In Finland I felt I could have done moreTakamoto Katsuta on his start to the season
“Sébastien [Ogier] was incredible in these sections,” says Katsuta. “So. Fast.”
You could hear the wind being taken out of the Japanese’ sails for the second time as he relived those moments where Ogier let rip and found grip where others feared to tread.
“Sébastien, Elfyn [Evans] and Kalle [Rovanperä], they are all incredible and so helpful,” he adds. “We are all sharing everything with the car set-up and everything.
“And Sébastien is always happy to talk with me. Sometimes on the test I go in the car with the other guys and this is helping as well. But his speed in Monte Carlo was amazing.”
Fortunately for Katsuta, people like his engineers Arthur Gerat and Shinji Kido are on hand to put Ogier’s awesome pace into context.
“My engineer and the engineers in the team helped me a lot with the debrief after Monte Carlo. They were able to show me some sections on the data where my speed was not so bad. This helped to give me some more confidence for Finland.”
Living in Finland and having won with a Yaris WRC on the snow in his adopted – for now – homeland, Katsuta arrived in Rovaniemi ready to ride the wave. Unfortunately for him, that particular wave didn’t break in his favour.
I told him during Arctic Rally Finland I am very happy with what he’s done. He kept it going, he took the points and this will help with his self-confidenceJari-Matti Latvala on Katsuta
Not according to him.
Again, DirtFish begs to differ.
We’d like to take you back to Saturday morning. Remember the really quick sections in Mustalampi and Kaihuavaara?
Six miles into the first of those two stages and Takamoto was quickest Yaris WRC, two seconds up on Ogier, 3.4s on Evans and three-tenths faster than Rovanpera. First split on SS4 and he beat everybody.
“In the fast sections, I was OK,” he says. “It was when the road was becoming narrow that I struggled a little bit. I had been to the snowbank twice in my test and I was not confident enough.
“This was the mental side a little bit. When it was really twisty, I was afraid to make the mistake and I was not going near to the snowbank. OK, I was consistent, but I was too careful.
“I will be honest – I was disappointed from Finland. You talk about two sixth places; they are the same number, but very different results. In Monte, it was difficult for the conditions, but in Finland I felt I could have done more. Much more. I know I can improve and, again, the team is so fantastic in helping me.”
And the team is happy to help.
For Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala, Katsuta’s speed was a reason to be cheerful on an otherwise slightly trouble event for the home favourites.
“He did a solid performance,” says Latvala reflecting on the Yaris which finished 36.3s behind Evans’ sister car.
“I told him during the rally I am very happy with what he’s done. He kept it going, he took the points and this will help with his self-confidence. He can go to Croatia in a nice way.”
But what’s possible from Croatia onwards?
“I need to take a little bit step-by-step for some rallies,” Katsuta says. “Where I don’t know the rallies, I have to build the speed and try to stay consistent.
“But in Finland and Estonia, I know these places a little bit better and I have confidence from competing there more. I would like to push more to the maximum there.”
Talk to team principals and they’re no different to the rest of us. Want to know what a driver can offer? Want to know if he can live with the speed? Head to Jyväskylä.
Look at those Lapland stages and split times a little closer. Those stretches of frozen Saturday road in the Arctic Circle were very similar to Urria or Päijälä. Taka-san’s not scared to hang it all out there. He’s brave, he’s talented and he’s blessed with one of the most experienced co-drivers in the business.
“Dan [Barritt] is very good,” he agrees, “he is helping me all the time. We are working very well together.”
It’s still too early to say how much Katsuta can achieve in the WRC, but his ability to overcome the worst possible finish to last season allied to a very solid start demonstrates no shortage of mental fortitude and speed.
And, sooner or later, he’s going to see that for himself.