Elfyn Evans heads into the final day of the 2023 WRC season with a comfortable 1-minute and 15-second lead at Rally Japan.
Evans began the day with a solid advantage of 1 minute and 49.9 seconds. His margin allowed him to manage his pace at the front during the day which was made a little more difficult when an unexpected snow shower entered the scene of SS14 in the afternoon.
“I thought I was going to be a minute down. It was raining, I can’t believe it”, said Evans at SS14 stage-end. He only dropped 11.4s to his nearest rival in P2, Sébastien Ogier.
“It’s snowing,” Ogier said. He added: “It’s crazy, we thought we had seen the worst, but the weather is amazing here.”
The snow shower became increasingly stronger for the later cars, which resulted in big differences between the Rally1 crews. Takamoto Katsuta avoided, like Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, the worst of the conditions, resulting in a stage time also half a minute faster than Ogier and 41.3 seconds faster than Evans.
Neuville was thus first on the road today and came across a safety car mid-stage in Saturday’s opener. The safety car was pulled over to the side of the road for an unknown reason. The Belgian stopped when he saw the car and later drove through the stage in road mode. The stage was later red-flagged and restarted some 22 minutes later. Neuville, Katsuta, Lappi and Tänak were given notional times as they were in the stage when the red flag was thrown.
Toyota on course for perfect result at home
Toyota is still on course for a perfect 1-2-3 result at their home rally. Evans leads Ogier by 1 minute and 15 seconds. Rovanperä is in third, 25.6s behind Ogier.
Esapekka Lappi moved up to P4 overall, a little under a minute-and-a-half behind Rovanperä. Ott Tänak is 26 seconds adrift of Lappi in P5. The Estonian is 14.9s ahead of home hero Takamoto Katsuta.
Andreas Mikkelsen ends the day in P7 overall and is still the leading Rally2 driver. Grégoire Munster isn’t far behind the Norwegian though: the difference is 8.3 seconds.
Nikolay Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz complete the top 10. Former F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen retired with a transmission issue. The Finn was in P10 overall.
One more day remains for the 2023 WRC season. Six stages are scheduled, totalling 84.08 kilometres. SS17 will be underway at 07:05 local time (Saturday 23:05 CET, 22:05 GMT). The final Power Stage starts at 14:15 local time (06:15 CET, 05:15 GMT).
WRC Rally Japan 2023 – Standings O/A after Saturday (SS16)
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||2:28:20.8|
|2.||Ogier / Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+1:15.0|
|3.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+1:40.6|
|4.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+3:09.3|
|5.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||+3:35.3|
|6.||Katsuta / Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+3:50.2|
|7.||Mikkelsen / Eriksen||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+5:11.3|
|8.||Munster / Louka||Ford Fiesta Rally2||+5:19.6|
|9.||Gryazin / Aleksandrov||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+5:54.6|
|10.||Kajetanowicz / Szczepaniak||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+12:51.6|
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool