Sammy Yokote Rally ’19

Sammy Yokote Rally

Legendary Japanese rally master, two-time Production WRC and multiple-time national champion, Toshihiro Arai is approaching a beautiful anniversary. At the Sammy Yokote Rally, Toshi celebrated the 180th rally start. Although the man will be 53 years old at Christmas, Toshi is unlikely to stop before he reaches the 200 starts. The number 180 is impressive, but what really turns T. Arai into a special person in the rally world – all the events up to one was started with cars that had the same swarm of stars on their hoods. In the Japanese language – that swarm is called Subaru. For 24 years, Toshi has been driving a variety of models on the rally roads, from the old Subaru Impreza GT to the Subaru Impreza S12 WRC. The only place where Arai has issued a Subaru badge is the start of the WTCC event in Japan with Chevrolet.

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The Japanese spent 11 seasons competing in the Production WRC class with the Subaru Impreza. 2005 and 2007 were successful – T.Arai became PWRC Champion. After a long time in WRC, Toshi tackled the IRC championship for a few seasons. And after the half-season of the 2013 European Rally Championship, Toshihiro made a decision to come back to his homeland, where he is rallying till now. And Toshi drives very successfully – he often climbs on the highest step on the podium.

Apart from participating in the rally events, Toshihiro, like many rally legends, set up his own team. Team garages prepare Subaru cars for the rally, team trades Subaru parts and provide service in the events. Toshi himself drives under his team flag for a long time. And from 2013 to 2015, his son Hiroki was also in the team lineup.

Hiroki Arai has been driving mainly in Japan for three years with his father-made Subaru Impreza’s. And was spotted by former champion Tommi Makinen, who took the Japanese to his team. For the first year, Hiroki studied the subtleties of the R5 class in Finland, and in 2017 and 2018, he followed his father’s footsteps in the World Rally Championship, class WRC2, but not in all events. In 2019, the Japanese and Tommi roads split, and Hiroki continued to participate in the European Rally Championship under the Sainteloc flag, along with his new teammate – A.Lukyanuk.

And 180th start in Toshihiro Arai’s career, unfortunately, was without a victory. Toshi was half a minute slower than another veteran and multiple champion, just under a year younger, Norihita Katsuto, who also drove a Subaru Impreza WRX STi. The rally stretched along the narrow and wooded gravel roads that WRC cars flew nine years ago.

And it is possible that Toshihiro will once again have a taste of the World Rally Championship as Japan is one of the candidates to return to the WRC calendar in 2020.

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Photo – Masayuki Suzuki