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Thu 21 Mar 2024

Latvala optimistic about Katsuta’s Safari Rally prospects

Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Jari-Matti Latvala is feeling positive about Takamoto Katsuta’s potential for claiming his maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory at Safari Rally Kenya next week (28 – 31 March).

The legendary Safari Rally forms round three of the 2024 WRC season and has previously been a happy hunting ground for 31-year-old Katsuta. Of his three attempts at the event, the Japanese driver has finished in podium position twice, while his Toyota team has won every edition since 2021.

Building on his impressive performance at FORUM8 Rally Japan late last year, where he secured nine stage wins, Katsuta's recent pace suggests a promising upward trajectory. Latvala echoes this sentiment and hopes that next week's African adventure might just unlock the door to Katsuta's maiden triumph.

“I hope we could get the victory for Taka, for sure,” Latvala told WRC.com. “I think, from what I see in Kenya now, the patience is really important – especially with the difficult weather.

“If the weather gets difficult, we need to remember that being the fastest is not always the way in Kenya. Being the smartest is, for me, the key, and hopefully we could get that with Taka. Anyway, I would really like now to see Toyota winning.”

Despite recent seasons seeing the Safari Rally held in June, this year's event has been brought forward. It means that wet weather is more likely – and in Kenya, rainfall can swiftly transform dry sandy roads into treacherous mudbaths.

“It’s going to be a different challenge,” Latvala affirmed. “We are in the rainy season and there is a risk that it will rain. If it rains then it will be really slippery, and when you [aren’t allowed] to cut the tyres then it can be quite a challenge for the drivers. Okay, it might be that it’s not so bad, but I would say that the risk is higher for the difficult conditions.

“One special thing now is that I think we will have the snorkels in Kenya because of the risk that there is going to be more water on the road. All the manufacturers can have this, so that I think can look quite cool.”

Toyota is currently tied on points with Hyundai in the manufacturers’ championship, although the latter won both opening rounds in Monte-Carlo and Sweden.