Last weekend, the 2018 season of the Japanese Rally Championship kicked off with the challenging Rally of Tsumagoi that takes place over the snow at Hokkaido. Despite the cold weather and difficult roads, Takuma Kamada took the first victory of the year.

There is a certain charm to the Japanese Rally Championship. Aesthetically pleasant with very different roads from Europe and even from the rest of Asia, the series makes the most out of the very paved roads in Japan to have a mostly tarmac-based series with the occasional dirt event. However, since 2017 the Rally of Tsumagoi came back to the rescue in order to add the flavour of a snow rally to start the season with. This 2018 saw the victory of Takuma Kamada in an event that had less interest than expected.

Considering the controversy with the tyres used by Norihiko Katsuta on this very same event last year and the complaint filed by Fumio Nutahara, there was always an interest in seeing the two of them fighting again. Katsuta is the current series champion, having won a total of eight Japanese titles, while Nutahara was one of his fiercest rivals last year. So the biggest surprise of the season so far came when the entry list revealed that neither driver was going to travel to Hokkaido for the snow event where they finished first and third respectively.

Between the lack of two of the main title contenders and the absence of any JN5, JN4 and JN2 machines, the event was a bit more dull than ideal. Even then, the fight for the win brought excitement to the passionate fans that braved the cold. Toshihiro Arai started off by showing his speed and topping the first stage, but his Subaru WRX STi let him down by having gearbox trouble during the second stage. He was not able to continue right away and even though he was able to come back before the day was over, the regulations did not allow him to score points.

Arai’s troubles left Kamada in an easy first place that he ‘only’ had to control, ahead of newcomer Hiroshi Yanagisawa, both of them on the same WRX STi’s as Arai. From then on, both Kamada and Yanagisawa kept their steady positions until the end of the event, with Osamu Fukunaga completing the podium positions with his third place. Tomoyuki Amano won in his JN3 class driving the perennial winner Toyota Vitz RS, while Manabu Naito took his first win in JN1 aboard a Mazda Demio.

Together with the Japanese Rally Championship, the Rally of Tsumagoi saw the first event of the year of the Japan Super Rally Series, which was won by Yuya Sumiyama. The Skoda driver won the first title of this new championship last season and started on a high by dominating the event aboard his Fabia R5, the very same car he will be using in the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.