Elfyn Evans tops Friday’s proceedings at Rally Japan

Elfyn Evans tops Friday's proceedings at Rally Japan

Elfyn Evans dominated Rally Japan with ease with only the superspecial left on Friday while closest rival Thierry Neuville lost out on the sixth stage.

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans dominated FORUM8 Rally Japan with 1 minute 49.9 seconds overnight after severe weather in Friday’s first leg caught several WRC contenders off guard.

On the first full day of action at the season finale, crews encountered a variety of challenges including torrential rain, dense fog and roads covered in damp leaves and slippery pine needles. Evans barely made any errors in the battle where the goal was to survive.

The Welshman had a 26-second lead over Thierry Neuville, his main rival for the runner-up berth in this year’s drivers’ championship despite a small overshoot in the second stage of the day.

In response, Evans’ lead was cut in half in the afternoon by Neuville with a lightning run through Isegami’s Tunnel 2. However, he was unable to make a comeback as he crashed his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 onto a tree on the first turn during the next round.

The Belgian was not the only driver to be caught off guard by the weather; as two more drivers went out the road at the same spot in SS2, he joined teammate Dani Sordo and M-Sport Ford Puma sensation Adrien Fourmaux as all three retired after the detours.

With two of his Hyundai rivals out of the race, Evans pulled ahead of teammate Sébastien Ogier leading by 50.9 seconds, while world champion Kalle Rovanperä completed a Toyota 1-2-3 finish.

However, Ogier came dangerously close to disaster on the SS6 when he was forced off the racing line after hooking into a ditch. This caused him to go wide and momentarily off the road as he collided with an Armco barrier. Ogier lost more than tens of thousands of dollars after he damaged his door as a result as he escaped unharmed.

Recently crowned WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä started first on the road but suffered skidding over slippery leaves, therefore he carried on cautiously and created a clearer path for those who followed.

The 23-year-old finished the day in third place overall as a result of his unwavering consistency with just 16.7 seconds splitting him and Ogier.

If Takamoto Katsuta hadn’t made a mistake on the same corner, which caught Sordo and Fourmaux off guard, Toyota might have easily swept the top four spots. The home favorite was able to get his car back into action by finishing the stage in EV mode and fixing the road section after it struck a tree and damaged the radiator.

Katsuta lost more than four minutes due to the incident and the time penalties he received for being late following his roadside fix. As a result of this, he struggled to finish in ninth place but his three benchmark times during the day were indicative of his strong performance.

Due to the high attrition rate, WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen, who was driving a Skoda Fabia RS built to Rally2 specifications, finished fourth overall while Grégoire Munster who was running in Rally2 machinery trailed him.

Nikolay Gryazin, a hopeful for the WRC2 Challenger series, finished sixth overall in his Fabia beating Esapekka Lappi, who found it challenging to put confidence in his Hyundai i20 N.

Ott Tänak finished eighth on a day when gremlins plagued his Puma. The Estonian lost approximately three minutes after the windows of his car fogged up on SS3, and he lost even more time in the afternoon due to an electrical problem that limited his performance.

Former Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen rounded out the top ten and finished third in WRC2.

Leave a Reply