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After a series of snow rallies to start the year, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program drivers #takamotokatsuta and #hirokiarai have embarked on a pair of rallies on Italian asphalt, beginning with the #rally Il Ciocco last weekend: the opening round of the Italian #rally Championship.
As asphalt is a surface that the drivers have even less experience of than snow, they switched to less powerful Ford Fiesta R2 cars to continue their apprenticeship. Against an extremely strong field of R5 and two-wheel drive cars driven by local experts, Arai and co-driver Glenn Macneall finished 16th overall and fifth in class at the #rally Il Ciocco, after 17 special stages. This was despite having a puncture on Saturday morning and then picking up another puncture in the dark on Saturday evening, which cost them a lot of time.
Katsuta and co-driver Marko Salminen were having a very strong pace, but were forced to retire at the end of Saturday’s leg after picking up two punctures on the penultimate stage. They were able to restart on Sunday morning, but didn’t make the finish as the gearbox broke after Sunday’s second stage. Nonetheless Katsuta was able to make use of his circuit #racing experience: he previously competed in the Japanese Formula 3 Championship, finishing runner-up.
Rally Il Ciocco takes place in the hills of Tuscany, through scenery made famous by the world championship’s Sanremo #rally when it ran though Tuscany in the 1980s and 1990s. With a combination of fast and slippery hill roads, featuring different changes of surface and rhythm, it provided a fierce test for the two young Japanese drivers.
In total the crews faced 175.30 competitive kilometres: the first time they had driven on asphalt since last year. The Italian championship is well-known for being a playground for local experts, who have contested the long-standing events on many occasions. The Japanese drivers, with their co-drivers from Australia and Finland, certainly didn’t have the same experience of the road surfaces and conditions, so they put the emphasis on caution to maximise their learning opportunities. They were pleased with their progress and the lessons learned, which puts them in a strong position for their next #event in Italy: the legendary Sanremo #rally.
“This was my first asphalt #rally in Europe so it was a very interesting learning experience and I was very pleased that I could be close to the speed of the local guys, who know these roads very well. We changed our pacenote system before the #rally, going from a 1-6 scale with plus and minus, to a 1-10 scale with no plus or minus. This makes it simpler, with fewer words, but without losing any detail. It worked well, although of course we have more work to do. We just had two bits of bad luck with the punctures and the gearbox problem, but we still managed to finish most of the stages so it was very good preparation. It was useful to drive the R2 car for this #rally: it meant that there was more time to think and concentrate on the pacenotes.”
“This was basically only my second-ever asphalt #rally in Europe, so I’m very happy with how we performed, and especially happy to reach the finish. The stages were so challenging and twisty: I think the longest straight we saw was only around 300 metres! We tried to make a steady start and then improve our pace as the #rally went on, which was a tactic that worked well for us. The puncture that we had on Saturday night was in the dark: we hit something but it was impossible to see what it was. Now I’m looking forward to Sanremo, which is part of #rally history.”
Jouni Ampuja (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Rally Challenge Program instructor)
“The trip to the Ciocco #rally produced some expected things and some other unexpected things, which really helped the learning process for our two drivers. Considering their level of experience compared to the other drivers, their performance was very good. Taka was very unlucky and we think that the gearbox problem on Sunday was related to the punctures on Saturday, when he was driving on the flat tyres. Hiroki drove a good #rally despite having two punctures. We can see now that this program, specifically designed to give the drivers as much experience as possible, is really working.”
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