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WRC Central Europe Rally

Toyota WRC juniors graduate to Rally2 for 2024

Toyota has selected two drivers from its WRC Challenge Programme to graduate to the second tier Rally2 class for next season.

Hikaru Kogure, Yuki Yamamoto, Nao Otake, Toyota WRC juniors

The reigning world champion squad chose three young Japanese rally talents namely; Hikaru Kogure (20), Nao Otake (21) and Yuki Yamamoto (24) to join its driver development programme last year, that aims to promote a young Japanese driver to its WRC team in the future.

After an extensive two-year training programme led by 15-time WRC rally winner Mikko Hirvonen, which has seen the trio compete in national and international rallies in Rally4 cars, Toyota has selected Kogure and Yamamoto to contest Rally2 programmes next year.

“For Yuki and Hikaru, the programme will get more difficult now they are stepping up to Rally2," said Hirvonen. "The competition will be harder and the pace will be higher, but we are excited to see what they can do when we push them even harder.”

Toyota began this driver development programme in 2015, with it biggest success story being Takamoto Katsuta, who has since progressed to drive Toyota's fourth WRC entry in 2020, and has driven full seasons in a factory car since 2021.

Today’s announcement doesn’t offer any more details about the Rally2 programmes for Kogure and Yamamoto. However, it would seem likely the pair will drive Toyota’s new GR Yaris Rally2 car, which is currently undergoing homologation and is expected to make its debut next year.

“I felt that I had done the best that I can, so I knew that I would not have any regrets,” said Kogure.

“At the beginning, I struggled quite a lot as I had very little experience on gravel or snow, and I found the pacenote system to be completely different. But I did a lot of recce training with my co-driver Topi and I felt a lot of progress during the most recent rallies in Poland, Latvia and Finland. Rally2 is going to be another step but I’m really looking forward to it.”

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Yamamoto added: “It’s been almost two years and we have learned a lot of things driving the Rally4 cars, and in the last few rallies we showed some good speed.

"So I think we progressed a lot and I feel I’m ready to step up to Rally2. Of course, it’s a very competitive category with a lot of good drivers so it will be very interesting to see how we can build up the pace and our skills.

“It won’t be easy to be at top speed immediately, but I believe we can have a good learning process and hopefully we can fight for top results in the future.”

Otake will also have the chance to continue his development in the Japanese Rally Championship next year with the support of Toyota. He will compete in a new JRC category which will be introduced in 2024, targeted at promising young Japanese rally drivers.

“Naturally, it is disappointing for me that I will not be able to continue with the program in Europe next year, but I am pleased that I will still have the chance to keep competing in rallying," said Otake.

“I want to say a big thank you to TGR and everybody who has supported me. I have never given up during my career, and I will keep pushing in Japan next year.”

The process to recruit a new intake of young drivers to the TGR WRC Challenge Programme is also underway following a recent qualification phase held at Fuji Speedway in Japan. The final selection will take place in Finland in December.

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