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WRC Japan: Neuville crashes out easing pressure on Evans

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville has crashed out of Rally Japan handing Toyota’s Elfyn Evans a healthy lead at the World Rally Championship season finale.  

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Neuville had closed to within 10.5s of Evans heading into stage six but his rally came to a premature halt 100 metres into the stage.

The Belgian lost control of his i20N which found the trees causing terminal damage to the front of his car. Last year’s Rally Japan winners Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were unharmed in the incident. The crash has handed Evans a 44.4s lead over Ogier.

Neuville’s accident is the latest from an eventful Friday thanks to severe wet conditions that created an incredibly slippery road surface, made even worse by a layer of leaves and pine needles on the asphalt stages.

Hyundai’s Dani Sordo, M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta were all caught out in stage two and the same spot. Sordo and Fourmaux found the trees before coming to rest next to each other, both crews escaped unscathed.

Katsuta also made contact with the trees, damaging the radiator on his GR Yaris, but the local favourite was able to limp through the stages.

The conditions worsened for Rally1 crews on the following stage with all drivers suffering from misted-up windscreens, which severely restricted visibility. The matter was best described by Neuville.

“The conditions are really, really dangerous. We shouldn’t be driving in them. I have done a lot of rallies but I’ve never been as scared as this morning,” said Neuville at the end of stage three.

Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team, Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team, Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Organisers elected to cancel stage four on safety grounds, a move that Neuville was quick to praise.

“It is impossible to explain,” said Neuville when asked to explain the conditions he faced at midday service.

“You are going as slow as hell but you are still having plenty of surprises and moments. It is unpredictable and it makes it really dangerous.

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“I think we have to highlight that the decision has been taken really quickly and the only decision was to cancel the stage.

“I’m really happy for that decision and I’m looking forward to this afternoon. We know the conditions are going to be more stable, but it is still going to be challenging but at least we will be able to control the car most of the time.”

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier welcomed the decision but felt organisers should have cancelled the entire Friday morning loop.

“Of course, it was not fun being in the car this morning it was about surviving,” Ogier told Autosport.

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

“I don’t think it was worth it to do it [the morning stages]. I think it would have been more clever to cancel this section, which was clearly to be the worst of the weekend. From now, the weather should improve a lot. We feel sometimes the organisers react too late in these kind of situations, that is my feeling.

“There was a couple of centimetres left in the windscreen where I could still see something but at every left corner I couldn’t see anything, and you just hope these couple of centimetres will stay otherwise you have to stop. It is a shame that we have to go through that.”

Rally leader Evans coped the best with the conditions, but the Welshman admitted he was unable to drive to his pacenotes given the concentration required to keep the car on the road.

“It is very difficult to take in everything [co-driver] Scott [Martin] says, I think I only heard about half of it. I was just trying to make the rest up as you go,” Evans told Autosport.

“When you can’t see through the windows it becomes very difficult.”

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