Two new young rally hopefuls chosen by TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program is pleased to welcome two new young Japanese drivers – Shotaro Goto and Takumi Matsushita – for 2024 after they impressed with their talent and potential during a week-long evaluation in Finland.

The process to select a third generation of drivers to join the WRC Challenge Program began at Fuji Speedway in Japan in September when more than 70 applicants were given the chance to demonstrate their skills behind the wheel.

Instructors from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team selected six drivers who would advance to the final training camp in Lapland, northern Finland. There, initial fitness tests were followed by five days of driving that would test their skills across a variety of different cars.

Despite their limited prior experience, particularly driving on snow and ice, the finalists made a strong positive impression on the instructors. The aim was to discover two drivers who showed potential to become top-level drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship, and Goto and Matsushita both demonstrated that they had what it took to earn a place on the Program.

Both drivers are at the very beginning of their rally careers and their development will accelerate next year under the guidance of their instructors. A comprehensive period of training focused on driving, pacenotes and fitness is planned for early in the year before the two drivers relocate from Japan to Finland later in spring to commence an intense full-time training schedule. The goal will be for them to start competing in national rallies in Finland and Europe from the summer onwards, in front-wheel drive Rally4 cars.

Goto and Matsushita will also have the chance to learn from those whose footsteps they are following in by joining the Program. Takamoto Katsuta, one of two drivers chosen in the initial selection back in 2015, will compete full-time for TGR WRT in the WRC in 2024 having already achieved multiple podium finishes at rallying’s highest level. Two drivers from the second generation, Hikaru Kogure and Yuki Yamamoto, will be making the step up from Rally4 to Rally2 cars next year.

Mikko Hirvonen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program chief instructor):
“This is the third time we have selected new drivers for the WRC Challenge Program and the first time we could do it like Toyota really wants to, and open up the opportunity to anyone who is interested regardless of their experience. This time we could go to Fuji Speedway and see, out of all the applicants, who had talent and who could drive fast, and then invite the best to Finland. Some of them had minimal background in motorsport or driving and we didn’t really know what to expect, but we were really positively surprised by the level of the whole group. It just shows that this is a great opportunity for people who may otherwise have no opportunity to get into motorsport at this level. Shotaro has only done one year of racing through university but the way he could adapt his driving to our instructions was really impressive, and he improved already quite a lot across the week. Takumi has done just one rally before but he has a really good technical understanding about the mechanical side, and he was able to drive all of the different cars at a good level straight away. Neither has much experience in competition but both were really strong and we are really excited to start working with them. Now the real work starts, especially on the pacenote side which is a big part of rallying, but we are sure they can reach a good level soon.”

Shotaro Goto:“I am really happy to have been selected to join the WRC Challenge Program. At the start of the week I noticed that I was not learning as quickly as some other drivers, which was mentally tough. I was a little bit worried about the final result, so I am very happy to be selected. My motivation has always been to be a better driver. Now I have been given this fantastic opportunity in a great environment, and I am really excited to have this chance to become a better driver. It is a big life-changing event for someone like me, who did not have the chance to be part of motorsport already from a young age. This is an unbelievably good opportunity to join the motorsport environment.”

Takumi Matsushita:“I am really relieved to be chosen to become a WRC Challenge Program driver and I am really looking forward to working with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, as well as my predecessors in the Program, Yamamoto-san, Kogure-san and also Katsuta-san. I learned a lot from the driving sessions in Lapland: the most important thing was probably left-foot braking and to drive more with the throttle and brake than with my hands. I really appreciate TGR for giving me this big challenge. I have little experience in rallying so I need to learn a lot from the pacenote training and then driving in rallies.”