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WRC Rally Japan

WRC Japan: Evans emerges from snow shower with lead intact

Elfyn Evans managed to hold onto a comfortable Rally Japan lead after safely coming through a snow shower during Saturday’s afternoon loop at the World Rally Championship season finale.

The Toyota driver carefully navigated through a trio of twisty asphalt stages - one affected by snow - with a 1m14.3s advantage over team-mate Sebastien Ogier.

World champion Kalle Rovanpera held onto third (+1m38.9s) to preserve a Toyota 1-2-3, ahead of Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi (+3m16.8s).

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak climbed to fifth while Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta completed an impressive clean sweep of stage wins to move to sixth. Katsuta ended the loop 13.8s behind Tanak and 33.7s adrift of fourth-placed Lappi.

Andreas Mikkelsen had started the day in fourth but slid to seventh ahead of fellow WRC2 runners Gregoire Munster and Nikolay Gryazin. Kajetan Kajetanowicz took over 10th spot after Heikki Kovalainen retired with a mechanical issue on stage 14.

Crews faced completely bone dry narrow and twisty roads for the afternoon loop which began with another success for home hero Katsuta.

Katsuta set a rapid pace through stage 13 (Nakuta Forest, 20.32km) to post a benchmark time 2.8s faster than Ogier, to claim his fifth stage win of the event to date.

It also marked the latest step of his comeback as the Japanese driver climbed to seventh ahead of Munster, who briefly stopped in the stage with a power issue.

Tanak also moved up the standings into sixth despite battling a misted-up windscreen during the stage, although this time it was caused by driver error, according to the Estonian.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

At the front, rally leader Evans and third-placed Rovanpera maintained a controlled pace to safeguard their positions. Evans did however cede 10.7s to Ogier.

“It’s very difficult, especially in these very narrow and muddy places. You’re never happy when it’s like this but we’re doing what we’ve got to do for now,” said Evans.

Katsuta continued his impressive run of form by winning stage 14 (Lake Mikawako, 14.78km).

Last year’s Rally Japan podium finisher was fortunate his elevated road position meant he avoided the worst of a snow shower that whipped through the stage, creating slippery conditions for the later runners.

Katsuta managed to pip Neuville by 0.8s to win the stage with Tanak 2.7s adrift. The times helped Tanak and Katsuta leapfrog Mikkelsen into fifth and sixth respectively.

The snow shower offered yet another unexpected challenge for those behind. Evans managed to navigate the conditions but lost 41.3s, ceding 11.4s to nearest rival Ogier.

“I thought I was going to be a minute down. It was raining very early on into the stage – I can’t believe it,” said Evans.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

The snow showers relented in time for stage 15 (Shinshiro City 6.7km) and again it was Katsuta who set the pace to claim third consecutive fastest time, to heap pressure on fifth-placed Tanak.

Katsuta pipped Toyota team-mate Rovanpera by 0.4s, while Evans produced a strong effort to sit third fastest, 1.4s in arrears.

Neuville was unable to challenge the top of the times courtesy of a hybrid failure on his i20N.

The crews will head to Toyota City for a third pass through the Toyota Stadium Super Special to conclude Saturday’s action.

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