Tough gravel experience for Kogure and Yamamoto

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program drivers Yuki Yamamoto and Hikaru Kogure had their first taste of four-wheel-drive gravel rallying in the GR Yaris Rally2 at the Rally de Portugal on May 9-12.

Rally de Portugal is based in the city of Matosinhos, north of Porto, and is one of the most famous gravel events in Europe, having been part of the original FIA World Rally Championship back in 1973. Since then it has carved out a reputation for a challenging mixture of fast but narrow stages in the forest, and soft and sandy roads that reveal rough bedrock below as more cars pass through.

Kogure and Yamamoto had previously experienced gravel roads in a Rally4 car but Portugal was their first opportunity to gain valuable gravel mileage in four-wheel-drive Rally2 cars. Doing so ticked off the third and final surface that features in the WRC, after the young Japanese pair had taken on snowy conditions in Sweden and driven on asphalt roads in Croatia earlier this season.

Unfortunately, both drivers’ rallies would end relatively early into the weekend. A small mistake by Yamamoto on the second stage of the rally on Friday morning led to a roll. While he and co-driver Marko Salminen were thankfully unharmed, their car was too damaged for them to take any further part in the event.

Kogure’s rally concluded after the fifth stage due to an engine-related issue. Valuable mileage on the stages he and co-driver Topi Luhtinen did complete provided a variety of stage characteristics, helping Kogure further adapt to the demands of driving on loose surfaces.

Hikaru Kogure:

“I faced a lot of new experiences in Portugal. We had wet conditions on the pre-event test, so my first time driving on rough and dry gravel was in shakedown. On Friday morning it was a proper challenge and I could learn about driving with worn tyres and also a cross package of hard and soft tyres. Until the issue happened it was going quite OK. My driving rhythm wasn’t so bad and I tried to push step by step, stage by stage, so I think I had a good approach until we had to retire. Of course it was disappointing but even though I could only drive a few stages, I could still learn a lot and have some good feeling. We have a pre-event test before Sardinia so we will prepare well and hopefully it will be a better rally.”

Yuki Yamamoto:
“Of course it was a big disappointment to end our rally so early, as we expected this event would give us a lot of experience, but I know that I can learn from this situation. There was one small mistake in my pacenotes, it was a little optimistic and the speed was a little too high for that corner. The rear snapped and I couldn’t get it back, touched the inside bank and we rolled. We expected the conditions in the rally would be easier than the test but still I found it was not that easy: it was slippery with many grip changes and following the line was crucial. But now I’m looking forward to Sardinia: we know it’s a bit more difficult with more narrow and twisty roads, so the pacenotes will be even more important. I will analyse my onboard and pacenotes from Portugal and do better in Sardinia.”

Juho Hänninen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program instructor):
“It was really unfortunate that this rally ended so early for both drivers. For Yuki to go out in the first stage of Friday was a big disappointment for him, and it was similar for Hikaru with the technical issue: he started the rally well and was driving at a good speed where he was able to learn while still clearly on the safe side. But this is rallying sometimes and it’s all part of the learning curve. Again, like in Croatia, the weather in the test was completely different to the rally, this time with heavy rain, so the first time Yuki and Hikaru drove with the hard gravel tyres on this car was during the event. It seems like every day they are able to see and learn new things – new surfaces and new grip conditions – so there is a lot for them to take in at the moment. Now Sardinia will be like starting almost from zero, and I would say it’s an even more challenging rally, but hopefully we have a good test and gain more mileage there.”

Results (WRC2 class):

  • 1 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)3h53m25.2s
  • 2 Josh McErlean/James Fulton (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2)+3.2s
  • 3 Lauri Joona/Janni Hussi (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2)+1m47.4s
  • 4 Fabrizio Zaldivar/Marcelo Der Ohannesian (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2)+2m14.4s
  • 5 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroën C3 Rally2)+2m30.6s
  • 6 Roope Korhonen/Anssi Viinikka (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)+3m13.3s
  • Retired Yuki Yamamoto/Marko Salminen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)
  • Retired Hikaru Kogure/Topi Luhtinen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)

What’s next?

Yamamoto and Kogure will get another opportunity to build their knowledge of gravel rallying on the island of Sardinia, where both will compete in Italy’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship, in the WRC2 class, on May 31–June 2.