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WRC Rally Japan

WRC Japan: Evans in control as Ogier nibbles at deficit

Elfyn Evans remained in control of the World Rally Championship season finale in Japan as Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier took a small chunk out of his healthy lead on Saturday morning.

The Toyota driver could afford to take a measured approach given his sizeable advantage, but ended the morning loop, held in dry conditions, winning two of the four stages, to lead by 1m35.5s. Nearest rival Ogier was able to claw 14.4s back on Evans across the morning.

Toyota’s lockout of the top three positions continued with two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera in third, 2m10.7s adrift.

Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi managed to climb from seventh to fourth (+3m51.4s), leaping ahead of WRC2 runners Andreas Mikkelsen (+3m54.2s), Gregoire Munster (+3m57.6s) and Nikolay Gryazin (+4m32.8s).

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak (+4m34.3s), Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (+4m46.7s) and former Formula 1 driver Heikki Kovalainen (+8m37.4s) rounded out the top 10.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was able to rejoin the rally after crashing out of second in stage six on Friday, although team-mate Dani Sordo and M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux were unable to restart after their stage two crashes. Fourmaux’s Ford Puma only returned to the service park at 10pm on Friday night, but damage to the roll cage prevented a repair on site.

The morning began in bizarre circumstances when officials red flagged stage nine (Nukata Forest, 20.32km) after crews encountered a safety car on the stage.

Neuville was the first to come across the stranded zero car which was pulled over to one side of the road midway through the test.

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

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

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

Neuville passed the car but soon switched into road mode for the remainder of the stage. Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta also navigated around the Rally Japan official car before organisers threw the red flags.

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak and Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi had already begun the stage when the red flags were shown. It is unclear why the zero car was stopped within the stage.

The stage eventually restarted with Neuville, Katsuta, Tanak and Lappi awarded notional times.

Ogier claimed stage nine by 3.1s from rally leader Evans once the action resumed. Rovanpera was third fastest ahead of WRC2 runners Munster and Mikkelsen.

Katsuta continued his impressive recovery from Friday’s stage two crash by claiming his fourth stage win of the rally in stage 10, which was delayed following the red flag in the previous test.

The Japanese navigated the predominately dry yet slippery road surface to post a time 1.1s faster than Neuville as he continued his pursuit of the top six in the overall standings.

“For sure, the target is to push as much as I can and to try and catch Ott and Esapekka,” said Katsuta. “I don’t know if it’s possible or not but at least I have to try.”

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

Photo by: M-Sport

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

Tanak was third fastest now driving a Ford Puma running without the electrical issues that hampered him through Saturday. Although, Katsuta’s stage win reduced the margin to the Estonian sitting in eighth overall to 8.6s.

Ogier was fourth fastest taking 13.3s out of rally leader Evans, who could afford to adopt a measured approach.

Evans admitted he’d been too careful in stage 10 and responded by claiming the two runs through the 2.84km Okazaki City Super Special, in front of a bumper crowd. The Welshman pipped Tanak on both runs.

I’m happy with my super special [times] and that’s not something I can say very often,” said Evans.

It was on this stage where Lappi rose up the leaderboard to fourth, overtaking Mikkelsen and Munster.

The crews will tackle a further four stages to complete Saturday’s action.

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