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Japanese rally rookies complete their Finnish debut

Left to right: Jussi Lindberg, Shotaro Goto, Takumi Matsushita, Pekka Kelander
Left to right: Jussi Lindberg, Shotaro Goto, Takumi Matsushita, Pekka Kelander

The newest TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program recruits Takumi Matsushita and Shotaro Goto successfully completed their first event at the Pohjanmaa Ralli, a round of the Finnish Rally Championship, on June 14-15.

Matsushita and Goto were selected at the end of 2023 as the third generation of drivers to join the program, and moved to Finland earlier this year to begin full-time training with instructors from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team.

Both drivers had limited prior motorsport experience in Japan: for Goto, the Pohjanmaa Ralli would be his first ever rally, while Matsushita had previously started one rally in Japan. Each has been paired with an experienced Finnish co-driver and working with them to develop their pacenote skills, while also testing in the two-wheel drive Renault Clio Rally4 cars they will be driving in their first rallies.

The Pohjanmaa Ralli is a typical Finnish gravel rally held on fast roads in the west of the country around the city of Seinäjoki. There were nine stages totalling 123.53 competitive kilometres, with only one of the stages driven twice, meaning crews had a lot of new pacenotes to write during reconnaissance before the rally got underway.

With the aim to complete all of the stages and gain as much experience as possible, both drivers made a solid start on the opening loop of three stages on Friday evening, and continued that into Saturday’s two loops of three stages. Despite changeable conditions, they would complete the full distance without major issues, with Matsushita and his co-driver Pekka Kelander finishing eighth in the SM3 class and Goto and his navigator Jussi Lindberg just one place behind.

Shotaro Goto:

“This was my first rally in my life and it was super exciting and fun. I was so happy to reach the finish without damaging the car. I think I gained a lot of experience because the conditions were changing all the time throughout the rally. We experienced heavy rain and big ruts and very muddy roads, so it was a big learning experience. The biggest challenge for me was to be brave enough and consistent when making my pacenotes. In some stages my notes were too cautious and I had so much margin left, and in some stages I had less margin. I felt I improved so much during the rally, and I can see this also when comparing the time gaps to the leaders. I know now what’s important in a rally and what I need to do to be better.”

Takumi Matsushita:
“It was not an easy rally but I was really happy to arrive at the finish. That was the main thing for me. But also, I think my rally was not too far to the safe side and I could manage with the threshold that I had. The most difficult thing was to find the correct and precise braking point after a long straight when you can’t see the corner. On the first day especially I was struggling a bit with that, but on the second day I had a much better feeling with the braking and the car behaviour and much more confidence with the pacenotes. So I felt a really good improvement in one rally. I’m sure as we continue testing and experience more roads and more conditions and more surfaces, I can get faster and more consistent.”

Mikko Hirvonen (TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program chief instructor):
“This was a good first rally for Takumi and Shotaro: we are really pleased with how it went. The only thing we really wanted was for them to get through the rally and that’s exactly what they did, without having any issues or making any big mistakes. Also, we compare their stage times to the fastest drivers – who have been driving Finnish roads for many years with lots of rallies – and the difference per kilometre was pretty encouraging for their first event. The conditions were changing a lot and we had some very heavy rain at times, which they had not experienced at all in our testing. There were so many new things for them, but they learned a lot. They really understood the importance of the pacenotes: when you’re testing, you go and up and down the same road and you quickly learn it, but in a rally it’s totally different. They’ve been analysing things really well, understanding what areas they have to improve and why, and it was really nice to see how they were handling the pressure of their first rally. They handled it all really well, so there’s a lot of positives to take forward.”

Results (SM3 class):
  1. Tuukka Kauppinen/Veli-Pekka Karttunen (Ford Fiesta Rally4)


  2. Jaspar Vaher/Sander Pruul (Ford Fiesta Rally4)


  3. Joni Korhonen/Miro Iljina (Peugeot 208 Rally4)


  4. Valentino Ledda/Claudio Mele (Renault Clio Rally4)


  5. Niko Kalmi/Sofia Rantasalo (Renault Clio Rally4)


  6. Thomas Martens/Eddy Smeets (Renault Clio Rally4)


  7. Takumi Matsushita/Pekka Kelander (Renault Clio Rally4)


  8. Shotaro Goto/Jussi Lindberg (Renault Clio Rally4)


What’s next?

Goto and Matsushita will continue their training on Finnish roads ahead of their next competitive event at the HYAcenter Rally on July 26-27. Based in Tampere, this event is run on classic Finnish rally roads and is often used by top teams and drivers as preparation for Rally Finland.

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