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Kogure and Yamamoto begin their Rally2 challenge

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program drivers Hikaru Kogure and Yuki Yamamoto successfully completed their first events in the Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 at the Arctic Rally on February 2-3.

Photo: TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
Photo: TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

Representing the second generation of the WRC Challenge Program, Kogure and Yamamoto have made the step up to faster four-wheel drive Rally2 machinery for 2024 after competing in two-wheel drive Rally4 cars during their first two years on the Program.

For their debut at this higher level, the pair took on the famous Arctic Rally, round two of the Finnish Rally Championship. Based in Rovaniemi in Finland’s northernmost region of Lapland, the rally features fast stages on snow and ice, some of which must be driven in darkness.

Both Kogure and Yamamoto already experienced the event one year ago, but the increased performance level of their new GR Yaris Rally2 cars would provide them with many new challenges to adapt to.

The main goal was to complete the full distance and gather as much experience as possible – and both drivers achieved this, reaching the finish in eighth and ninth positions in the highly competitive SM1 category. After 199.95 kilometres of rallying, they were separated by only 1.7 seconds, with Kogure finishing just ahead of Yamamoto.

Kogure, co-driven by Topi Luhtinen, showed good performance already on Friday’s opening leg, which he finished in ninth position. On Saturday morning, a technical issue meant he lost some time but this was resolved in service so that he could drive strongly to the finish in a challenging last loop that featured long stages and fresh snowfall.

Yamamoto, who links up with Marko Salminen as his new co-driver for this year, also dropped some time on Saturday morning with a couple of overshoots, but recovered well to set good times in the afternoon.

Hikaru Kogure:

“Firstly I’m happy to finish this rally. Beforehand I was a little bit nervous, but everything worked well, the GR Yaris Rally2 felt really good and I’m happy with the result. I wasn’t looking too much at my speed, as I was more focused on the rhythm of driving and getting a good feeling with the car. But the speed was also coming, which was good. Although the speeds are much higher with the GR Yaris Rally2, I also find that it’s easier to drive more calmly and smoothly, which is very good. Sometimes I struggled a bit in messy or slippery conditions, especially in the super special stages on Friday. But it’s just the first rally, and I will focus on where I can improve for the next rally in Sweden.”

Yuki Yamamoto:
“This has been a good experience for me. I was excited for my first rally with our GR Yaris Rally2, and everything was new for me. I’m very happy to be able to finish this rally and collect all this mileage: It was very much needed and this was my target so I’m very happy. I had a good feeling in our pre-event test and just tried to keep the same rhythm in the rally. Of course it’s not easy in the many different kinds of condition we faced, so I was a little bit too careful in the beginning, but stage by stage I built up the confidence and the feeling was getting better all the time. This rally is good preparation for Rally Sweden with the different types of stages so I’m feeling ready for this next challenge.”

Mikko Hirvonen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program chief instructor):
“It was an exciting week for Hikaru and Yuki. They were facing a lot of new things and maybe a bit more pressure too now that they’re driving the new GR Yaris Rally2. It was also their first rally since Rally Finland last August, so they’ve had a bit of a break from competition even though they’ve been testing quite a lot. Considering all that, I think they did well. They had tough conditions in that there was quite a lot of gravel coming through, so they had to think about saving the tyres a bit. But when they were able to push, they could do that and it was really a solid and smart drive from both of them. The main thing was to get the kilometres with the new car and they approached it really well. It was fantastic preparation for Rally Sweden, which will be another challenge, but they got a lot of experience here in how to manage the tyres and how to drive this car at a competitive speed. We’re really happy with how it’s started.”

Results (SM1 class):

1 Mikko Heikkilä/Kristian Temonen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)      1h41m02.8s

2 Teemu Asunmaa/Ville Mannisenmäki (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2)         +7.3s

3 Roope Korhonen/Anssi Viinikka (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)                  +35.7s

4 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)                  +57.0s

5 Benjamin Korhola/Miikka Anttila (Hyundai i20 N Rally2)                  +1m37.5s

6 Niclas Grönholm/Tomi Tuominen (Škoda Fabia R5)                        +2m31.2s

8 Hikaru Kogure/Topi Luhtinen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)                    +3m51.2s

9 Yuki Yamamoto/Marko Salminen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2)             +3m52.9s

What’s next?

Kogure and Yamamoto will take what they learned in the Arctic Rally into Rally Sweden (February 15-18), when they will compete in the WRC2 class for the first time. Rally Sweden takes place on similarly fast snow-covered roads around Umeå.

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