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WRC Rally Japan

WRC Japan: Evans heads Toyota 1-2-3 after Neuville exit

Elfyn Evans opened up a healthy Rally Japan lead after Thierry Neuville’s accident handed Toyota control of the Word Rally Championship finale on Friday afternoon.

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

Evans puts his Toyota GR Yaris into a 26.0s lead over Neuville after winning the morning’s two stages held in extreme wet conditions, but the Welshman came under pressure from Neuville in the afternoon.

Neuville’s charge came to a halt after a crash on stage six which helped push Evans into 50.9s lead over Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier.

Newly crowned two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera inherited third following Neuville’s demise with the Finn, 2m07.4s adrift.

Leading WRC2 runner Andreas Mikkelsen clung onto an impressive fourth (+2m56.3s) following his star performance across the morning stages. The top six was completed by WRC2 driver Nikolay Gryazin (+3m44.3s) and Esapekka Lappi, who took a cautious approach in the sole remaining Hyundai (+3m46.3s). M-Sport WRC2 driver Gregoire Munster held seventh (+3m46.9s).

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak battled electrical issues to sit eighth (+4m43.7s), ahead of the recovering Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta, who won all three afternoon stages after losing time to damaged radiator caused by crash on stage two.

The intense morning rain relented for the afternoon loop, but the roads remained wet and ready to catch out the drivers.

Katsuta put his crash in the first pass of Isegami’s Tunnel this morning behind him by winning the second run to kick off the afternoon.

Equipped with a repaired GR Yaris the Japanese delivered on the impressive pace he showed before his accident to set the benchmark time, 3.3s faster than Neuville.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

“We could have done it [this time] this morning as well. It’s a shame as we have the pace. I didn’t push too much and just managed the pace and still we had this time,” said Katsuta.

While Katsuta’s time was impressive, Neuville’s effort spiced up the battle for the rally lead as the Belgian took 15s out of rally leader Evans. The Hyundai driver declared the conditions “challenging but more straightforward“ than the morning as he reduced the deficit to 10.5s. Evans felt he didn’t use the full grip potential in the stage.

Evans’ team-mate Ogier clocked the third-fastest time despite colliding with a barrier at low speed towards the end of the test. The Frenchman dropped 16.2s but remained in third overall.

Rovanpera found the going much easier than morning pass, but the Finn reached the stage end 24.2s behind Katsuta.

Tanak also lost time to the lead group when his Ford Puma developed electrical issues that left the Estonian without anti-lag and a throttle issue.

The rally swung heavily towards Toyota on stage six when drama struck Neuville. The Belgian’s victory push came to a premature halt following a crash at the first corner of the Inabu Dam (19.38km) test.

Neuville’s i20N understeered off the road and clouted tree causing terminal damage. Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were okay but hopes of a second Rally Japan win are over.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Neuville’s exit handed Evans a comfortable 44.4s lead over Ogier while Rovanpera climbed to third to complete a provisional Toyota podium lockout.

There was more joy for Toyota as Takamoto Katsuta claimed a second stage win of the event, beating Evans by 0.3s with Ogier and Rovanpera third and fourth fastest.

Lappi, driving the sole remaining Hyundai, was fifth but the Finn wasn’t happy with his performance.

“We tried. For sure we tried to improve. It’s quite embarrassing where we are but it is how it is,” said Lappi, who sat seventh overall but ahead of Tanak, who continued to struggle with his Puma.

Katsuta completed a hat-trick of stage wins by claiming stage seven (Shitara Town, 22.53km) with a time 1.1s faster than rally leader Evans.

“That’s all I can do now, keep pushing and taking the fastest times as much as I can to try and catch in front,” said Katsuta who ended the afternoon 5m08.9s adrift.

There was further movement on the leaderboard as Lappi jumped ahead of Munster into sixth overall.

A second run through the Toyota Stadium super special will complete Friday’s action.

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