Northern Ireland World Rally Championship co-driver Aaron Johnston has said he has high hopes of another strong performance with the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team on this week’s Rally Italia Sardegna.
After being denied a first podium together by Hyundai’s Dani Sordo on the previous round in Portugal last weekend, all eyes will be on how Takamoto Katsuta and Johnston respond to that disappointment.
The pair teamed up for the final three rounds of 2021 when Katsuta’s regular co-driver Keaton Williams took a step back from the sport for personal reasons only for his replacement – Dan Barritt – to be side-lined after suffering neck and back injuries in a heavy landing at Rally Estonia.
Katsuta and Johnston renewed their partnership for this season and delivered their best performance to date in Portugal in the GR Yaris Rally1 supermini.
They were denied the chance to spray the champagne by Sordo on the concluding Power Stage as the experienced Spaniard stormed through it to steal the place by 2.1 seconds having trailed them by 2.2 seconds going into it.
Johnston believes that Katsuta came of age on the tough gravel event and can use the disappointment as a springboard for the remaining nine World Rally Championship rounds – starting on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.
“It was a fantastic weekend in Portugal,” reflected Johnston. “If you look at the overall picture, we showed some good speed over the three days of the rally. We were fighting at the very front of the field so, overall, I think that we have to be very happy about what we managed to achieve at the event.
“At Toyota Gazoo Racing, we have a team of people who are the best level they can be and, of course, when you have that, that helps me and Taka to go out and produce the results that we do,” he added.
“Now that we have done six or seven rallies together, and have spent six or seven months together, we are getting to know each other better. The relationship inside and outside the car is improving all the time. That was clear in Portugal, so let’s see what Sardinia brings. We are confident going there.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala believes the Portugal result will galvanize the crew’s desire to win. “It is hard to lose the podium at the very end,” said the Finn. “He was in the third place on the last stage. I know myself the feeling when you have not reached the podium many times.