Elfyn Evans led home a dream Toyota 1-2-3 on the home soil for the Japanese manufacturer. The Welshman took the lead in the first stage of Friday morning and never looked back.
Evans clinched his eighth career win by finishing a dominant 1min 17.7sec ahead of team-mate Sébastien Ogier at this final round of the season, confirming his place as the runner-up driver in the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship for the third time.
Evans laid the foundations for glory early in the asphalt fixture when he charged to a near-two-minute advantage in Friday’s rain-soaked opening leg. From then on, he was able to control the rally by adapting his risk level to suit the ever-changing conditions.
Kalle Rovanperä’s capture of the final podium spot capped off a perfect season for Toyota, which has heralded titles for Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen, as well as a third successive manufacturers’ championship victory.
“It was not easy with the conditions we had this week, even though we had a massive gap already after Friday night,” Evans said. “A massive thanks to the team, the car’s been great and a 1-2-3 for Toyota is a fantastic result.”
Ogier, who has undertaken a part-time programme in 2023, damaged his GR Yaris car’s chassis when he slid into a barrier on Friday. The required repairs meant he exceeded his allocated service time, collecting a one-minute time penalty which ultimately prevented him from threatening Evans’ advantage.
He finished 28.8sec ahead of Rovanperä while Esapekka Lappi, driving a Hyundai i20 Rally1, held off Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta to claim fourth by 20.0sec.
Katsuta wins 10 stages on home rally
Home hero Katsuta won ten of the rally’s 21 stages but ended just over three minutes adrift of victor Evans due to an incident on Friday morning. Without that misdemeanour, the 30-year-old could well have celebrated his maiden victory.
Ott Tänak was unable to strike a good balance with his M-Sport Ford Puma, and sixth place was all the Estonian could manage on his final outing for the British team. He returns to Hyundai Motorsport’s line-up next season.
WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen added another class victory to his tally as well as finishing seventh overall in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Behind him were fellow Rally2 battlers Nikolay Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
The top 10 was completed by Hiroki Arai with the two-wheel drive Peugeot 208 Rally4. Grégoire Munster had been challenging Mikkelsen for the Rally2 class victory but went off the road on Sunday.
WRC Rally Japan 2023 – Final results
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||3:32:08.8|
|2.||Ogier / Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+1:17.7|
|3.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+1:46.5|
|4.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+2:50.3|
|5.||Katsuta / Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+3:10.3|
|6.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||+3:28.3|
|7.||Mikkelsen / Eriksen||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+7:33.7|
|8.||Gryazin / Aleksandrov||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+8:49.6|
|9.||Kajetanowicz / Szczepaniak||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+19:25.9|
|10.||Arai / Tachikui||Peugeot 208 Rally4||+22:22.7|
WRC 2023 Drivers’ Championship – Standings after Round 13/13 [Top 10]
WRC 2023 Manufacturers’ Championship – Standings after Round 13/13
|1.||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||548|
|2.||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||432|
|3.||M-Sport Ford WRT||287|
Photo, text: Red Bull Content Pool