Japanese drivers make WRC2 debuts in Sweden

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program drivers Yuki Yamamoto and Hikaru Kogure made their debuts in the highly competitive WRC2 class at Rally Sweden on February 15-18, driving the GR Yaris Rally2.


This was the Japanese duo’s second time competing in the FIA World Rally Championship’s only pure winter event, having gained initial experience of the high-speed, snow-covered stages around Umeå in 2023 when they were driving two-wheel drive Rally4 machinery. On this occasion they would be driving their GR Yaris Rally2 cars in competition for just the second time, building on their positive outing in the Arctic Rally in Finland at the start of this month.

The first full day of the event on Friday provided extreme conditions for all of the drivers with heavy snowfall, but both drivers handled this well considering their lack of experience compared to their competition. Yamamoto and co-driver Marko Salminen ended the day in an impressive seventh position in WRC2, with Kogure and his navigator Topi Luhtinen also showing good pace and able to complete the full day even though they did get stuck in a snowbank and picked up two punctures during the afternoon, losing close to half an hour in total.

The longest day of the rally on Saturday brought quite different conditions for the drivers to adapt to. Yamamoto lost some ground in the evening with a puncture and damaged suspension, finishing the day 10th in WRC2, while Kogure’s day came to an early end following another encounter with a snowbank at the end of the afternoon loop. He was able to restart on Sunday to gain further mileage alongside Yamamoto, who reached the finish in 10th place in class.

Hikaru Kogure:

“Although there were a lot of ups and downs this weekend, it has been a really good experience overall. There were some frustrating moments for me, but I also feel I could have some good speed and good rhythm in some stages. Compared to the Arctic Rally I could feel that my pace was getting better and I was always improving stage by stage. The roads were very fast but we also had very tricky conditions on Friday, which was really good experience. And by the end of the weekend, I was running a long way down the order so had very messy conditions with a lot of gravel and it was tough for the tyres. So it was all good learning and I enjoyed that a lot. Now we’ve got this mileage on snow, hopefully we can have more speed on the next event.”

Yuki Yamamoto:
“It’s been a really good rally even if sometimes it’s been challenging. The conditions were really different on each day, but that’s been nice experience and good for learning. Friday was really tricky with a lot of snow and massive ruts, but I was still able to have a good feeling in those conditions. At the end of Saturday I hit a rock and had to go really slowly on the last stage. But on Sunday the conditions were so nice and the feeling has been getting better and better. It’s been nice to follow the lines of the fastest drivers and compare with their times. It’s been a really good weekend and I’m sure I’ll keep learning and do better in the next rally.”

Juho Hänninen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program instructor):
“We knew that this was going to be a tough challenge for Hikaru and Yuki but even though it was only their second event in the Rally2 car and the conditions were really demanding, it was a positive weekend. Yuki drove all the stages and Hikaru did almost all of them, so they gained a lot of experience, and when they were able to get through cleanly with no mistakes then the stage times were pretty good, I would say. The conditions on Friday especially were tough for everyone and given they don’t have experience of that in these cars, they managed it pretty well. Still after that, the grip was changing a lot and it’s difficult to adapt your driving accordingly when you don’t have experience. They certainly learned a lot and that will make their next event in Finland easier for them.”

Yuki Yamamoto
Yuki Yamamoto

Results (WRC2 class):

  • 1 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2)2h38m09.1s
  • 2 Sami Pajari/Enni Mälkönen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+1m19.7s
  • 3 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+1m22.2s
  • 4 Roope Korhonen/Anssi Viinikka (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+1m43.9s
  • 5 Mikko Heikkilä/Kristian Temonen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+2m21.5s
  • 6 Lauri Joona/Janni Hussi (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2)+2m58.6s
  • 10 Yuki Yamamoto/Marko Salminen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+9m37.1s
  • 20 Hikaru Kogure/Topi Luhtinen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+54m12.3s