Rally Hokkaido was held in Obihiro where the rally had been held the previous time in 2007. I drove there in 2006 and 2007 but both times I went off the road.
Now I was participating for the third time but this time the race was a Japanese championship race and my car was Toyota Yaris Rally2.
As early as in January 2023 Akio Toyoda invited me to drive in Hokkaido knowing that Rally Greece would be held at the same time. The decision had been made so we kept it which meant that I did not go to Greece as the team principal, but went to Japan as a driver instead with Juho Hänninen as the co-driver.
The Toyota Rally2 car was still in the developmental phase because it would enter the series in 2024 but we wanted to get the data of the ongoing phase.
Right away the first stage of the race (Rikubetsu) convinced us that the car had potential. I was five seconds faster than anyone else on the stage.
The car was very easy to drive, the engine had enough torque, the car had good grip due to its long suspension travels and the car was strong. With a good car and an able driver results were easy to achieve. I was able to drive at the same level that I did in Secto Rally Finland a month earlier.
I won the rally by two minutes 16 seconds. Number two was Norihiko Katsuta (Takamoto’s father), who also drove Rally2 Yaris, and Heikki Kovalainen was third.
The race gave us important data and information about the car and its performance. The Toyota people were very happy with the results. We are really looking forward to the premier of this car in the world championship series.