What you need to know:
- Recently-crowned world champions Kalle Rovanperä , 22, and Toyota Gazoo Racing will be motivated by an ambition of concluding the season in style at home to showcase the potency of the Yaris R1
- Rally Japan is returning to the WRC after a 12-year-absence which includes two postponements in the 2019/21 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic
- While Rovanpera is the man of the moment, the team will be looking up to eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, previous winner of WRC Japan, for guidance
The final round of the 2022 World Rally Championship FORUM8 Rally Japan starts Wednesday in Toyota City, the home of WRC manufacturers’ champion Toyota Gazoo Racing, loaded with sentimental memories for Japan as a country.
Rally Japan is returning to the WRC after a 12-year-absence which includes two postponements in the 2019/21 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the second biggest global event being held in the Far East country since the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held last year, also delayed by one year because of Covid-19 pandemic.
For Toyota, this is certainly a homecoming party expected to be enjoyed by the whole team whose only pressure is to please the local fans and sponsors, having already won the manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles in a season which saw the Japanese manufacturer win all podium positions, including a fourth in WRC Safari Rally in Kenya
Recently-crowned world champions Kalle Rovanperä , 22, and Toyota Gazoo Racing will be motivated by an ambition of concluding the season in style at home to showcase the potency of the Yaris R1, please Japanese WRC partner sponsors and the new generation Hybrid Toyota without pressure.
But their Priority One driver homeboy Katsuta Takamoto is not.
How about a Japanese driver winning Rally Japan in a Japanese car in front an adoring home fans base in a city called Toyota Aichi? Takamoto has time and again proven that he is gradually climbing the WRC pyramid towards the apex. Is he a serious contender?
Potentially, yes. He has home knowledge advantage as the winner of Central Rally Aichi Japanese championship round in 2019. Then, supported by one of the most passionate rally fans in the world plus a desire to excel as the first Japanese WRC contender is enough motivation for the 29-year-old, second and third in the 2021/22 edition of the Safari Rally respectively.
Toyota Gazoo Racing team means business as it made a triumphal entry back home aboard a Japanese Airline (JAL) last week.
"It’s going to be a really tricky event,” Rovanperä told Redbull.com. “I came to this rally [before it was a WRC round] three years ago and saw some of the stages."
There are some wider and smoother roads, as well as some very narrow forest sections that can also be quite dirty. It's going to be a The team arrived in Japan as a whole family, bringing together team principal Jari-Matti Latvala, drivers, co-drivers and senior personnel in one aircraft for the first time.
Toyota’s partner airline has worked so closely on the logistics as one of the sponsors of Toyota which has remained unbeaten in the WRC since 2017.
While Rovanpera is the man of the moment, the team will be looking up to eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, previous winner of WRC Japan, for guidance.
“I'm excited for this. I love this country and I have such good memories from the fans, the people and the place. I only drove here one time (in 2010), but I won that event – I want to keep this 100 percent record going next week," former world champion Sebastien Ogier told Redbul.com.
But Toyota Gazoo racing is not sitting pretty. Hyundai and Ford are determined to share the spoils. M-Sport has entered two Pumas for Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith with a single-minded purpose of closing the season with victory after Sebastien Loeb won the first rally of 2022, Rallye Monte Carlo.
Thierry Neuville who led a 1-2-3 victory of Hyundai in WRC Greece last September, the first in the WRC for the South Korean manufacturer contends that there will be enormous competition in Toyota City. "To beat Toyota in their home that would be the dream,” said Neuville.
WRC Japan will be 283km long divided into 19 stages held over four days starting Thursday. It has attracted 38 drivers led by the three manufacturers from Toyota, Hyundai and Ford.