The world champion squad has selected two young Japanese rally talents Shotaro Goto and Takumi Matsushita to join the initiative, which aims to promote a young Japanese driver to its WRC team.
Toyota began the WRC Challenge programme in 2015, with its biggest success story being Katsuta, who has since progressed to become a regular podium finisher and will drive Toyota’s second WRC entry next year.
Goto and Matsushita are the third wave of candidates to participate in the programme following Hikaru Kogure, Nao Otake and Yuki Yamamoto. Kogure and Yamamoto have since been rewarded with Rally2 drives in a new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 for next year.
The process to select a third generation of drivers to join the WRC Challenge Programme began at Fuji Speedway in Japan in September when more than 70 applicants were given the chance to demonstrate their skills behind the wheel.
Instructors from Toyota’s WRC team selected six drivers who then advanced to the final training camp in Lapland, northern Finland. There, initial fitness tests were followed by five days of driving that would test their skills across a variety of different cars. Goto and Matsushita both demonstrated that they had what it took to earn a place on the programme.
Under the guidance of four-time WRC runner-up and Toyota’s chief instructor Mikko Hirvonen, the pair will now begin an intensive training programme focusing on driving, pacenotes and fitness.
The drivers will then relocate from Japan to Finland later in spring to commence a full-time training schedule. The goal will be for them to start competing in national rallies in Finland and Europe from the summer onwards, in front-wheel drive Rally4 cars.
“This is the third time we have selected new drivers for the WRC Challenge Programme and the first time we could do it like Toyota really wants to, and open up the opportunity to anyone who is interested regardless of their experience,” said Hirvonen.
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
“This time we could go to Fuji Speedway and see, out of all the applicants, who had talent and who could drive fast, and then invite the best to Finland. Some of them had minimal background in motorsport or driving and we didn’t really know what to expect, but we were really positively surprised by the level of the whole group. It just shows that this is a great opportunity for people who may otherwise have no opportunity to get into motorsport at this level.
“Shotaro has only done one year of racing through university but the way he could adapt his driving to our instructions was really impressive, and he improved already quite a lot across the week.
“Takumi has done just one rally before but he has a really good technical understanding about the mechanical side, and he was able to drive all of the different cars at a good level straight away.
“Neither has much experience in competition but both were really strong and we are really excited to start working with them. Now the real work starts, especially on the pacenote side, which is a big part of rallying, but we are sure they can reach a good level soon.”