Thierry Neuville is the early rally leader at Rally Japan, the final round of the 2023 WRC season.
Last year’s Rally Japan winner and fastest driver in shakedown earlier today, Thierry Neuville, set the pace in Thursday’s opening Super Special Stage at the Toyota Stadium. The Hyundai driver clocked 0.7s faster than his team-mate Esapekka Lappi.
Lappi, who was confirmed to remain at Hyundai next season with a part-time programme, was 0.7s faster than Ott Tänak.
Dani Sordo made it all 3 Hyundai Rally1 cars in the top 4, 0.4s shy of Tänak and 1.8s behind Neuville.
Toyota’s struggle at the Toyota stadium
Home hero Takamoto Katsuta was the fastest Toyota driver in P5 overall, 3.1s adrift of Neuville and 0.9s ahead of his team-mate and now two-time WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä. “We were bad on this stage, like all Toyotas. The car was tricky to drive”, said the Finn.
Adrien Fourmaux was 7th fastest time on his Rally1 return, half a second behind Rovanperä and 0.2s ahead of his countryman and eight-time WRC champion Sébastien Ogier. Ogier, like the other Toyota’s, struggled: “We need to check why we lost 4 seconds. I didn’t take risks, but still it is a lot to lose.”
Elfyn Evans was the slowest Rally1 driver in P9, 4.9s behind Neuville in the 2.1-kilometre-long SSS. The top 10 was completed by Nikolay Gryazin, who was 1.3s faster than Andreas Mikkelsen.
On Friday, the longest day of the rally awaits the drivers, totalling 133.26 competitive kilometres. Friday’s opening stage, Isegami’s Tunnel, starts at 07:04 local time. Toyota City is 8 hours ahead of the time in Central Europe and 9 hours ahead of GMT. SS2 will thus start at 23:04 CET and 22:04 GMT.
WRC Rally Japan 2023 – Standings O/A after Thursday (SS1)
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Neuville / Wydaeghe||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||1:47.6|
|2.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+0.7|
|3.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||+1.4|
|4.||Sordo / Carrera||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+1.8|
|5.||Katsuta / Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+3.1|
|6.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+4.0|
|7.||Fourmaux / Coria||Ford Puma Rally1||+4.5|
|8.||Ogier / Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+4.7|
|9.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+4.9|
|10.||Gryazin / Aleksandrov||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+5.3|
Photo: Hyundai Motorsport