Why Toyota is slowing down Katsuta

Despite a string of impressive drives this season, Toyota's protégé's pace is being contained for a good reason

Takamoto Katsuta

When the core principle of rallying is to accumulate the lowest possible overall time, backing off and slowing down rather goes against the grain.

But winning the rally isn’t always the objective of all competitors in the World Rally Championship – as much as they’d all like it to be.

Just ask Adrien Fourmaux, and apparently Takamoto Katsuta too.

The 2022 season is Katsuta’s third as a full-time top-line driver in the World Rally Championship but driving for Toyota’s second-string Next Generation team means he’s still on a development arc that hopefully one day will take him to the top.

Takamoto Katsuta

The signs are already there that Katsuta can cut it, particularly at the beginning of last year where he went on a sensational run of consecutive, sixth and fourth place finishes that then became second on Safari Rally Kenya.

A battering run of accidents and pure misfortune then followed before Katsuta has slowly begun to rebuild himself this year with a podium fighting performance in Portugal, an under-the-radar fourth in Sweden and a solid sixth last time out in Italy.

However, none of these results have been absolute barnstormers; they’ve all been calculated drives – even his top-three finish in Kenya during which he briefly held the lead of the rally. And that’s no accident.

Toyota technical director Tom Fowler was asked by DirtFish what he made of Katsuta’s latest drive in Sardinia, pointing out that it looked like he had made another step forward.

Fowler said he thinks “that’s a fair assessment” before revealing the advice that Toyota is giving its junior.

“It’s something that I try to do with Taka probably more often than he likes which is to slow him down,” Fowler said, “because you see, since he’s been with us, that he often gets himself into very good positions in rallies and in the championship as he is at the minute and maybe from a driver perspective, it’s trying to be too competitive all of the time.

“It’s almost a pride thing, he can’t be less than 0.2s per kilometer slower than this person or whatever, but in reality, what gets you the results which people see on paper and lasts forever is points, not times.

Takamoto Katsuta

“And sometimes you have to drive for points, and I think he is coming to terms with that more and more as time goes by.”

He certainly seems to be. Particularly now that Katsuta has the responsibility of scoring manufacturer points for the first time this season.

To Katsuta’s credit, from the outside at least he’s never looked like a driver that wants to risk it all for stage glory – he seems far more comfortable playing the percentage game.

Surely if the solid points finishes keep coming, it can’t be too long before that patience is rewarded with a far more exciting team instruction.

Words:David Evans and Luke Barry