Katsuta being pushed to convert pace into podiums

Takamoto Katsuta(centre) has been told to improve after a distant fourth in Toyota’s Safari domination. Image: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Takamoto Katsuta has conceded his performance at Safari Rally Kenya with co-driving team-mate Aaron Johnston fell well short of the expectations he had for the Naivasha-based event. 

The Japanese driver was a distant fourth in a 1-2-3-4 finish for Toyota Gazoo Racing – the second consecutive time it has achieved the historic feat at the event, and the fourth time in history it has dominated a round of the FIA World Rally Championship in such a way.

However, the final result did not tell the whole story of a weekend that started with Katsuta rolling his GR Yaris Rally1 on the shakedown stage after a hard compression unsettled the car’s balance and ended with the rear-left wheel digging into the gravel and sending it into a vicious spin.

Fully repaired, Katsuta and Johnston wrapped up the Friday leg with a cracked windscreen and a front-right puncture before losing crucial downforce for part of Saturday when the rear wing was damaged.

The drama continued into Sunday as the car’s onboard energy recovery system stopped working before huge plumes of dust on the penultimate test activated a warning alarm on its dashboard.

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A leaking radiator that threatened to stop the pair from completing the road section back to the service park was the final curve ball – but they survived the scare to be classified as finishers.

On his previous two visits to Kenya, Katsuta recorded a runner-up result in 2021 and third place in 2022. However, given the headaches they faced, Latvala conceded getting the car back to final service was an achievement in itself.

“It is amazing that Taka has made three starts in Kenya and that his results have been second, third and fourth. That for me is pretty remarkable on such a demanding rally,” said Latvala.

“We saw some action in this event from Taka and hopefully that can be turned into some podium finishes in the second half of the season.

“Mentally, it’s not easy to have a big accident before the rally and to try to come back from that, but Taka bounced back really well and was getting stronger and stronger during the event. In that sense, he did a great job,” he added.  

Katsuta admitted his poor start to 2023, which has so far yielded only three, top 10 outcomes, was not down to a car that has won five of the opening seven rounds.

“It is an incredible team effort from all the engineers and mechanics and designers: they have all done a great job and the car has been very strong here again in Kenya,” he said. 

“I felt very good with the car and felt that I could push to fight for another podium on this event. Overall, it has been a very tough weekend, but we made it to the finish and that is the most important thing on this rally.” 

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