Home Motorsport Motorsport Week: Evans shines in Japan, narrowing down Rally1 competitors

Motorsport Week: Evans shines in Japan, narrowing down Rally1 competitors

Motorsport Week: Evans shines in Japan, narrowing down Rally1 competitors

Elfyn Evans dominates FORUM8 Rally Japan with a commanding lead overnight

The opening leg of FORUM8 Rally Japan provided extreme conditions that caught out several WRC peers, but Elfyn Evans emerged as the frontrunner. Despite facing torrential rainfall, thick fog, and treacherous roads covered with damp leaves and slippery pine needles, Evans displayed exceptional skill and composure.

Starting the day with a minor overshoot during the second stage, Evans reached the lunchtime service halt with a comfortable 26-second lead over Thierry Neuville, his closest competition for the runner-up spot in this year’s drivers’ championship.

In the afternoon, Neuville responded with a brilliant run through Isegami’s Tunnel 2, reducing Evans’ advantage by more than half. However, Neuville’s comeback was abruptly halted when he crashed his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 into a tree on the first corner of the subsequent test. Unfortunately, Neuville was not the only driver to fall victim to the challenging conditions. His teammate Dani Sordo and M-Sport Ford Puma’s Adrien Fourmaux also retired after leaving the road at the same location in SS2.

With his rivals sidelined, Evans maintained a commanding lead and spearheaded a GR Yaris podium lockout for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

Reflecting on the tough conditions, Evans acknowledged the morning’s zero-grip situation and the subsequent adjustment to more manageable driving conditions in the afternoon. He highlighted the challenging nature of the day and the satisfaction of surviving it unscathed.

Following Neuville’s exit, Sébastien Ogier emerged as Evans’ nearest challenger. However, the eight-time world champion admitted that catching up with his teammate would be a daunting task. Ogier faced a setback in SS5 when he slid sideways into a barrier, causing damage to the chassis of his Toyota and incurring a one-minute time penalty for late check-out after necessary repairs.

Despite being the first car on the road, newly crowned WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä maintained a cautious approach to navigate the challenging conditions and carve a cleaner line for those following. Rovanperä’s consistency paid off as he finished the day in third place, just 16.7 seconds behind Ogier.

Toyota’s dominance in the rally could have resulted in a top-four sweep, if not for an error by Takamoto Katsuta at the same corner where Sordo and Fourmaux encountered trouble. Katsuta’s car brushed against a tree, causing radiator damage. However, the determined local star managed to make it back to service after completing the stage in EV mode and conducting repairs on the road section. Unfortunately, the incident, combined with time penalties for lateness after the roadside fix, relegated Katsuta to ninth place.

The rate of attrition was so high that WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen secured an impressive fourth place overall, driving a Rally2-specification Škoda Fabia RS. Grégoire Munster, also competing in Rally2 machinery, followed closely behind.

WRC2 Challenger series hopeful Nikolay Gryazin showcased an outstanding performance, finishing sixth overall in his Fabia. Esapekka Lappi, however, struggled with confidence in his Hyundai i20 N and settled for seventh place. Ott Tänak, plagued by gremlins in his Puma, faced multiple setbacks, including misted windows and electrical issues, causing him to drop significant time. Former F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen completed the top 10 and held third place in WRC2.

As Saturday approaches, competitors face eight challenging stages with a combined total of 84.68km. The shorter day promises no respite from the demanding conditions encountered thus far.

Leading positions after Friday:

  1. Elfyn Evans & Scott Martin (GBR) – Toyota GR Yaris: 1h 25m 22.7s
  2. Sébastien Ogier & Vincent Landais (FRA) – Toyota GR Yaris: +1m 49.9s
  3. Kalle Rovanperä & Jonne Halttunen (FIN) – Toyota GR Yaris: +2m 6.6s
  4. Andreas Mikkelsen & Torstein Eriksen (NOR) – Škoda Fabia RS Rally2: +3m 0.2s
  5. Grégoire Munster & Louis Louka (LUX) – Ford Fiesta Rally2: +3m 5.0s
  6. Nikolay Gryazin & Konstantin Aleksandrov – Škoda Fabia RS Rally2: +3m 29.6s


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