Japanese pair experience a new challenge in Croatia for TGR Challenge Program

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Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program drivers Yuki Yamamoto and Hikaru Kogure gained valuable new experience as they made their second WRC2 starts at the Croatia Rally on April 18-21: a demanding first asphalt event for them behind the wheel of the GR Yaris Rally2.

Since joining the FIA World Rally Championship schedule in 2021, the Croatia Rally has gained a reputation as one of the most demanding asphalt events, with fast but technical stages featuring jumps and crests as well as a wide variety of different asphalt types. This means that grip levels are constantly changing, with the addition of mud and gravel being dragged onto the stage by each passing car – a particular challenge for Yamamoto and Kogure running further down the road order as part of a competitive WRC2 field.

Another new element for the young Japanese drivers’ debut on asphalt at this level was to work for the first time with gravel crews, who drive through the stages in advance to check the conditions and modify pacenotes accordingly.

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Yamamoto and Kogure

The main aim for both drivers was to gather as much experience as possible, which they achieved by driving every stage during the weekend.

Both almost made it through the first and longest day of the rally on Friday without major incident. In the afternoon’s final stage, Yamamoto had a spin and could continue, but Kogure was not so fortunate, spinning and hitting a bank on the inside of a corner and damaging a radiator, forcing him to stop.

Kogure and co-driver Topi Luhtinen could restart on Saturday, experiencing some small technical issues in the morning loop that could be fixed in mid-day service. Both drivers escaped spins in the first stage of the afternoon as they continued to build their confidence and pace, before Yamamoto went off less than two kilometres from the end of the day’s final test. He and co-driver Marko Salminen restarted on Sunday and reached the finish in 11th place in WRC2, one position ahead of Kogure and Luhtinen.

“I really learned a lot during this rally. I knew that Croatia is a really demanding rally but the first stage was maybe the trickiest one with a lot of mud, and immediately I realised that this would be a really difficult challenge. But I’m happy with how I approached this event. The pace was getting better and better through the first two days. Unfortunately at the end of Saturday I was just too fast over a crest and went off, which was a pity. But I could finish almost all the stages and gain really nice experience, with lots of cutting and grip changes and working with the gravel crew. So it has been a pretty good weekend.” said Yamamoto.

Kogure aid after race: “This was one of the toughest weekends for me so far. Friday morning was quite challenging because of the rain overnight, so the cuts were very muddy and it was quite slippery, and I took a lot of care. In the afternoon it was getting dry and I could feel a bit of confidence, so I could push a little bit and the times improved. Unfortunately in the last stage, in a corner with a lot of gravel, I went a bit too fast, spun and hit the inside bank and broke the radiator. But my confidence and pace got better day-by-day, which was really good. There was lots of learning, especially working with a gravel crew, which was one of the new elements for us in this rally, and it was all good experience for the future.”