Honda Team Asia rider Kaito Toba faced an unexpectedly difficult debut season in the Moto3 World Championship. After finishing 10th at the Argentine Grand Prix, he was almost always swamped in the back groups, unable to live up to his potential. Through these hardships, however, the 17-year-old Japanese rider learned, and now has become a more determined young man, as a rider and as a person.
“The 2017 season was my first world championship year and everything was new to me. That’s why I struggled a lot. At the beginning of the season, I had some good finishes and expected I would be competitive as the season went on. But, it was not the case. I improved a bit after the summer break, then started struggling again. In general, my results in the 2017 season had many ups and downs and not consistent at all.”
—What difficulty did you find the most unexpected?
“The difference in feel between this year’s bike and last year’s. It was the most embarrassing thing. I wanted a good feel from my bike like last year, and tried to find the right setup, but couldn't. That’s why I struggled and could not get good results this season.”
—Was this the most difficult season in your racing career?
“Absolutely. I’ve never experienced such a hard season. I think my racing career went smoothly before I came to the World Championship. When I started racing in the All Japan Championship, I was able to get some decent results. Also in the FIM CEV Repsol Championship and MotoGP Rookies Cup, even in the first season I could score some good championship points. I haven’t had such difficulties before, and to be honest, I struggled very much to get out from there.”
—Maybe these difficulties would make you anxious about your competitiveness as a racing rider. How did you manage and control yourself?
“Actually, I had no idea how to manage the mental side so that my crew chief and all the team staff always helped and supported me, which is why we could come through this tough season. I tried to always keep my confidence, remembering the thrill of riding the bike for the first time, and stay positive. But, I sometimes couldn’t manage myself very well and felt down. Even in such times, my team encouraged me to get back to a positive mindset. For example, when I went to the track that I had raced in CEV or the Rookies Cup, and if my lap times and results were worse than last year, I almost lost confidence. But looking at the data, there was something positive, which is good to get my confidence back. And it also gave me the opportunity to learn where I had to improve. It was a very tough season for me because I didn't get any good results, but at the same time, I believe that I will be stronger when I overcome these issues. I will also learn how to manage myself. So, I strongly believe this year’s tough experiences were a good opportunity to make me stronger.”
—Even though you have spent some weeks in Europe in the CEV and Rookies Cup, you haven’t been in Europe as long as this year. How do you find life in Europe?
“I like the European lifestyle, the atmosphere and cuisine very much. But I had to go to and from Europe and Japan, so I also in a plane for a very very long time! The problem of long travel time is I can't spend that time training. I think this is my disadvantage compared to European riders.”
—What are your strengths and weaknesses as a rider?
“I have no idea about myself! Let me see…I think I am a tough rider in a battle. I never give way to other riders just only to avoid contact. On the other hand, I might be a little bit too cautious when the conditions become tricky. Maybe this was one of the reasons I struggled this year.”
—What is your objective for the 2018 season?
“My target is to win the championship. When we look at the Moto3 champion results in the past, riders became successful more or less in their second year. So, I have to get good results next year, too. And to make it happen, I will train harder than ever this winter. I believe I have good skill and potential to fight in the lead group. I will be able to reap what I have sown in a difficult 2017 season.”