Former Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Juho Hänninen has backed Takamoto Katsuta to succeed in his first full FIA World Rally Championship season in 2021.
Hänninen will become Katsuta’s instructor and already has good insight into the 27-year-old’s abilities having formed part of his route note crew and co-driven him during testing.
Katsuta scored his first top level stage victory in the final speed test of the season at ACI Rally Monza earlier this month and Hänninen eyes more progress when he tackles all 12 rounds next season in a Yaris World Rally Car.
“In the end there were not so many rallies but if you look back at, for example, the speed he showed in Estonia and then especially the last rally at Monza, I’m especially proud of how he came back in difficult conditions with really good stage times,” explained Hänninen.
“For sure, his speed has improved a lot and next year I think it will again be much easier for him. He will be in the car more often and there are many new rallies, which will make it more equal and easier for him to compare himself against the other drivers.”
Hänninen, the 2012 European champion, joined Katsuta at Toyota’s Rallye Monte-Carlo test in France last week and will be an ever-present at WRC rounds across 2021.
“I’m looking forward to being with him on every rally, working with him more closely and helping him with car setup. There are plenty of areas that we can work on and need to work on, but I’m confident that he can achieve some good results,” he added.
Katsuta hopes to reap the benefits of the new partnership.
“I know him very well and I have been testing with him and sitting next to him in the car. He’s obviously a very good driver, he has many years of experience and he understands the car very well. I’m sure I will become a better driver with his advice,” he said.
Katsuta suffered heavy crashes in Estonia and Sardinia, as well as an embarrassing first day retirement at ACI Rally Monza, but believes he made a step-up in 2020.
“This was a very difficult season for everybody and it was not easy to learn like usual, but my performance and my driving has improved since the beginning of the year,” he added.
“Of course, the rally results were not there but there were still some good stages, and I have a better understanding about different conditions and car set-up. It’s been a good experience for me and my confidence is definitely much better than before.”