Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston equalled his career-best result by taking third place on last weekend’s Rally Japan.
The return of Rally Japan to the WRC calendar for the first time since 2010 was highly challenging for teams, drivers, and co-drivers, with an entirely new event, held on demanding and twisting asphalt roads in the mountains of the Aichi and Gifu prefectures.
Johnston and his driver Takamoto Katsuta benefited from the misfortune of their Toyota teammates Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin.
The British crew were fighting for the event lead when their Yaris got a puncture three stages from home. They had to stop and change a wheel and tyre after running wide in a downhill right-hander, dropping them to fifth overall at the finish.
This misfortune promoted Takamoto Katsuta to third position on his home rally in his Toyota Gazoo Racing – Next Generation entry.
Heavy rain hit for the final two stages of the event, but Katsuta safely made it through the treacherous conditions to clinch a special podium finish, his second of the season together with co-driver Johnston. The pair previously finished third on the Safari Rally Kenya in June.
Their result impressed Toyota Gazoo Racing team founder Akio Toyoda, a member of the family that gives the Japanese car company its name.
He is hoping the Japanese/Irish crew can claim a maiden win next year.
“Thank you for standing on the podium in our home rally! Congratulations! I believe that you returned the favour to the people who have helped you,” said Toyoda.
“It was impressive that you were standing on the podium amidst the blessings of these people. However, my dream has not come true yet. I want to stand on the podium with you. You stand in the centre, and I stand beside you. It might be Rally Japan next year, or it might be some other rally, but please continue your challenge from tomorrow to make it come true.”
Craig Breen took two fastest times on the final day of the rally including the PowerStage. The success on the final stage meant that new co-driver James Fulton scored World Rally Championship points in his WRC Rally 1 debut.
Cavan man Fulton is a graduate of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and while it is great to see new blood make it in the World Rally Championship, two of Ireland’s most experienced competitors also enjoyed success in Japan.
Eamonn Boland and MJ Morrisey finished an impressive 19th overall and third in the WRC 2 Masters category in their Ford Fiesta RC2.
Meanwhile, in Italy, Aoife Raftery’s maiden attempt at the Rally delle Marche ended in disappointment after a brilliant start.
The Galwegian was the leading female driver and fourth in the under-25 category when a driveshaft in her Peugeot 208 broke on the penultimate stage of the gravel rally.
She and her co-driver Geraldine McBride turn their attention to the all-tarmac Rally Dell’Osolla in the north of the country this weekend.
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