The Toyota Gazoo Racing Rally Challenge Program members Takamoto Katsuta, Hiroki Arai and Sayaka Adachi took to asphalt roads for the first time this season on Rally Il Ciocco, the opening round of the Italian Rally Championship.
Katsuta finished fourth overall with Arai close behind in sixth, while co-driver Adachi came fourth in her class alongside Finnish driver Jarkko Nikara.
Rally Il Ciocco took place over fast and slippery roads in the hills of Tuscany, with 153.91 competitive kilometres over 15 stages, all but one of which had to be tackled in the same day.
Katsuta and Arai were both returning to Rally Il Ciocco for a second time, but after using two-wheel drive machinery on the 2017 event, this time they were competing in the top class in Ford Fiesta R5s, going up against many experienced local drivers.
Adachi and Nikara meanwhile were competing in a two-wheel drive Ford Fiesta R2B for the first time.
It was also Adachi’s first asphalt rally in Europe and Nikara’s first event on the surface for more than five years.
Katsuta spent much of the rally in fifth place, just ahead of Arai, as the two young Japanese drivers set consistent and evenly-matched stage times.
Hiroki Arai and Australian co-driver, Glen Macneall, finished in sixth position. Photo: TGR
An engine misfire caused Katsuta to drop behind Arai with just two stages remaining, but he recovered the place on the penultimate test.
He then produced the third quickest stage time on the very last stage to move himself and co-driver Marko Salminen up into fourth place by 2.2 seconds over their nearest rival.
Arai, navigated by Glenn Macneall, finished a further 6.8s behind in sixth, despite struggling with the feeling from his brake pedal on some stages.
The gap between the two drivers was never more than nine seconds, as both avoided making big mistakes on the tricky stages.
“I am fairly happy with my rally, but it was a little bit frustrating that I had a braking problem on some stages,” Arai said.
“The feeling from the pedal seemed different on every corner, so I kept having to adjust all the time.”
“Otherwise I think that things went well. My driving was getting better all the time and I believe the times have been quite OK.”
“I learned quite a lot about how to use the road, and hopefully this will be useful for Corsica,” Arai concluded.
Adachi and Nikara lost time early in the rally when they lost the use of stage mode due to a broken wire.
They fixed the problem after SS2, which led to a penalty for being late starting SS3.
They achieved consistently strong stage times thereafter as they climbed from 13th to fourth in the R2B class.
Despite their lack of experience of the stages compared to their competition, they were quickest in the class on five stages of the 15 stages.
Katsuta and Arai will hit the stages again at the WRC Tour de Course, the French round of the World Rally Championship.
Rally Il Ciocco Results:
Paolo Andreucci/Andrea Andreussi (Peugeot 208 T16 R5)
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