Rocky road for Yamamoto and Kogure in Sardinia

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program drivers Yuki Yamamoto and Hikaru Kogure continued their gravel rally education by taking on Rally Italia Sardegna on May 31–June 2 aboard the GR Yaris Rally2.

Rally Italia Sardegna has been a fixture on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar for two decades and features a variety of road characteristics, from narrow and technical sections to sweeping high-speed sections, plus a mixture of loose gravel and hard bedrock that give a wide variety of circumstances to tackle in a short period of time.

This was Yamamoto and Kogure’s second gravel event in a Rally2 car, following on from Rally de Portugal in early May. As their mileage had been curtailed by issues on the previous event, gaining maximum experience was the primary focus on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Both drivers built up their pace and confidence on a shorter than usual Friday itinerary, learning how to manage and maximise tyres on Sardinia’s hot and abrasive gravel roads.

However, heading into the longest day of the rally on Saturday, a small mistake by Kogure on SS5 ended his rally: braking slightly too late for a corner, he hit the bank on the outside. While the damage to the car could be repaired, Kogure experienced pain in his right shoulder and, while a scan showed no fractures, he was not cleared to drive on Sunday as a precaution.

Yamamoto was unlucky to also stop on SS5, having clipped a piece of concrete hidden on the inside of a corner. While he and co-driver Marko Salminen were able to implement a fix at the side of the road, they ran out of time to make the next stage and had to retire. Yamamoto returned for Sunday’s action and registered further valuable experience.

Hikaru Kogure:

“The roads in Sardinia were a completely different challenge to Portugal; it’s much narrower with a lot of corners coming in quick succession. The itinerary was slightly shorter than a normal WRC round but for the crews, there is still a lot of work. One of the narrow sections caught me out on SS5; there had been a high-speed section just beforehand and my pacenote was slightly optimistic, so I braked too late and hit something on the outside. Unfortunately, while the mechanics did a great job to fix the car, it was not possible for me to restart the rally. I will analyse what happened and learn for the next event.”

Yuki Yamamoto:
“Finishing the rally was my main target, so I have mixed feelings. On Saturday morning, we hit some hidden concrete inside a bush that we did not see on recce. I managed to fix the car in the stage but we ran out of time to make the next one. After missing many kilometres in Portugal, completing every stage in Sardinia was vital, so this was a double disappointment. When I returned on Sunday, I was learning from every corner I passed and was able to find a better feeling, even though the Power Stage was the roughest road I’ve ever seen! It was a good experience even though it was quite short. I need to be patient and more clever next time.”

Juho Hänninen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program instructor):
“Both drivers made a good start on Friday, coming through without any problems or mistakes. On Saturday, we knew and the drivers knew that the first stage would be a big challenge, as probably the trickiest stage on the rally. Unfortunately, it was too big a challenge for the guys. The biggest disappointment was that they both missed almost 150 kilometres over the rest of the day, which would have been really valuable experience. But when experience is so limited, then even when taking care you can still make a mistake. It has been their first time on these sorts of technical gravel rallies in any car, and this car is a big step from what they were driving before. So, at the moment it’s a big challenge and we need to think how we can gather more experience in future of different surfaces and types of road. At least Yuki could restart on Sunday and see the unique conditions in those stages. That was a good eye-opening experience, realising how important it is just to drive through these stages to learn about new kinds of roads and conditions. Rally Estonia is closer to what they know so it should hopefully be easier for them to have a good event there.”