Evans wins 2023 WRC Japanese Finale

With his third WRC victory of 2023, Elfyn Evans sealed finished the season in style with a Toyota podium lock-out on the manufacturer's home soil and in doing so, delivered an impressive display in extreme wet conditions, and even snow showers, to lead home 8-time world champion Sebastien Ogier by 1m17.7s. In fact, Toyota completely dominated the 22-stage asphalt event, with two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera completing the podium, albeit 1m46.5s adrift.

Across the four-day event, Evans set four fastest times, but it was his stunning display on Friday in horrendous wet conditions, that provided the platform for victory. The Welshman started Friday in ninth after Thursday's Toyota Stadium super special opener but leapt into a 26.0s lead by the end of stage two following a virtuoso performance on saturated roads made more slippery by leaves and pine needles.

A lack of visibility caused by misted-up windscreens that affected all Rally1 cars only added to the challenge. In fact, organizers cancelled stage four such were the severity of the conditions and Hyundai's Thierry Neuville emerged as Evans' nearest rival, closing within 10.5s before running off the road at the first corner of stage six which ended his hopes. Neuville rejoined the rally on Saturday and claimed the full bonus Power Stage points.

Neuville's demise handed Evans a 44.4s lead over Ogier which ballooned to 1m49.9s by the end of the day. Ogier received a one-minute penalty after leaving service six minutes late following a repair to his GR Yaris' chassis, caused by contact with a barrier on stage five.

Evans was kept honest by the changeable weather conditions as snow briefly arrived on Saturday afternoon, but the Toyota driver remained in control throughout to seal victory from Ogier. The result clinched the runner-up spot in the championship for Evans.
Rovanpera's victory charge was dented on Friday after losing 1m36.4s after only three stages. The Finn, troubled by a foggy windscreen, faced the worst of the conditions which he declared the most difficult of the season and was unable to recover the time loss and ultimately settled for third ahead of the sole remaining Hyundai driven by Esapekka Lappi +2m50.3s.

Lappi struggled for confidence behind the wheel of his i20N for the majority of the rally finding himself in seventh at the end of Friday. The Finn steadily improved to climb to fourth before coming under pressure from Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta across Sunday's stages, but Lappi held position. Katsuta could have found himself in the fight for victory had he not found the trees on stage two, damaging his GR Yaris' radiator. The Japanese driver then produced a stunning fightback from ninth to fifth +3m10.3s, scoring 10 stages wins in the process, more than any other driver.

M-Sport's Ott Tanak was another victim of a misted-up windscreen on Friday which cost him more than three minutes. The 2019 world champion rose back to fifth despite battling electrical issues on his Ford Puma and ultimately slipped to sixth +3m28.3s at the finish in what was his final event for M-Sport before moving to Hyundai next year.

Hyundai's Dani Sordo and M-Sport's Adrien Fourmaux, the latter making his Rally1 return, crashed out at the same corner where Katsuta damaged his radiator on stage two, ending their rallies on the spot. WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen claimed a fourth class win and seventh overall, after holding fourth position going into Saturday following an impressive performance on Friday. The top 10 was completed by Rally2 competitors Nikolay Gryazin, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Rally4 driver Hiroki Arai.

Drivers' Championship Final
2. E. EVANS 191
3. T. NEUVILLE 184
4. O. TÄNAK 162
5. S. OGIER 114
6. E. LAPPI 98
7. T. KATSUTA 89
8. D. SORDO 63
9. T. SUNINEN 42
10. O. SOLBERG 33
Manufacturer's Championship Final
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing 504
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 399
3. M-Sport WRT 271

19th November, 2023

Neuville wins Central European Rally!

The inaugural three-country Central European asphalt rally 26-29 Oct competing across Austria, Germany and the Cech Republic was the subject of a double celebration when Toyota's Kalle Rovanpera clinched his second World Rally Championship title with a round to spare and Hyundai's Thierry Neuville won the WRC newcomer by 57.6s from the young Finnish double champion.

This result was enough for Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen to become only the sixth pairing in WRC history to successfully defend the world title after Toyota team-mate and championship rival Elfyn Evans failed to outscore the 23-year-old Finn. The podium was completed by M-Sport's Ott Tanak, who finished 1m52.8s behind Neuville.

Neuville led the rally at the end of Thursday's two super special stages held in the Czech Republic, but the Hyundai driver lost that advantage by stage three, when extremely wet conditions dominated Friday's stages producing treacherous driving conditions which benefited both title contenders Rovanpera and Evans at the top of the running order.
Showcasing his ability when road surfaces become slippery, Rovanpera delivered a clean sweep of stage winning times on Friday morning, moving himself into 29.2s lead over rival Evans, who climbed from eighth overall. But Evans was unable to match Rovanpera's pace across the afternoon and dropped behind Neuville to third. Rovanpera went into Saturday's stages in Austria and Germany with a 36.4s lead over Neuville with Evans, 47.2s in arrears.

While Evans felt the gap to his title rival was uncatchable on pure driving alone, he was offered a glimmer of hope when Rovanpera made a rare error on stage 10 and overshot a hairpin left and was lucky that his GR Yaris found a gap between the trees, losing 24.7s in the process.

This put Neuville within 10.9s of Rovanpera before stage 11 which provided an ultimately decisive moment in the championship. Sitting in third position, Evans locked an inside front wheel before running off the damp road at a relatively low speed. The Welshman's GR Yaris hit a wooden barn which damaged the front of the car and ripped off a rear wheel. Evans was forced to retire from the day but rejoined the rally on Sunday and claimed the Power Stage.

Rovanpera was made aware of the drama that struck his title rival before starting the stage and elected to back off, which handed Neuville the rally lead with Rovanpera realistically only needing to finish the event to seal the title. Strategically, he wisely opted not to push, although he did still win Stage 14, arguably the most slippery of the entire rally. With the threat of Rovanpera diminishing, Neuville was afforded the luxury of coasting through the remaining stages to clinch a comfortable win.

Tanak sealed third despite struggling with the set-up of his Ford Puma in wet conditions and a hydraulic issue on Saturday night that briefly put him into a ditch. Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier came home in fourth after his rally hopes were dented by a puncture on stage three. The Frenchman also battled an illness throughout the week.

Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta completed a solid drive to claim fifth ahead of Hyundai's Teemu Suninen. M-Sport's Gregoire Munster impressed in only his second Rally1 outing to finish seventh ahead of team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet who endured an eventful rally.
Loubet was handed a one-minute penalty for failing to have his helmet correctly fastened before then losing five minutes to a crash on stage eight. A transmission issue halted his progress on Sunday which dropped him to 10th overall.

Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi was the only Rally1 retirement after a high-speed crash on stage five when he was sitting in an impressive third. M-Sport's Adrien Fourmaux finished as the top Rally2-run entry in eighth, although the WRC2 class was claimed by Skoda driver Nicolas Ciamin.

The final round - thirteen - of the 2023 championship is the FORUM8 Rally Japan 16-19 November on the sinuous asphalt roads in the mountain regions of Aichi and Gifu, an event first debuted in 2022.

31st October, 2023

Cave's Cambrian win - Pearson's BRC victory

Garry Pearson secured the final round of the 2023 season a Motorsport UK British Rally Championship by taking second overall - first BRC registered driver crew - on the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally, 28 October. The Duns driver and co-driver Hannah McKillop pushed overall rally winner Tom Cave throughout each of the event's five tests, to take their Pirelli-shod Volkswagen Polo GTi to Pearson's maiden BRC victory and more importantly, sealed second place in the championship behind title holder and absentee, Adrien Fourmaux.

Once again the Llandudno-based event provided some world class stages, that are characteristic of the North Wales forests and have witnessed some epic World Rally Championship title fights played out over the decades. The unforgiving and technical nature of the topography, together with tricky and damp conditions existing on tests such as Cloc and Brenig, meant there was no margin for error.

Whilst Fourmaux had secured the 2023 title in Yorkshire, Pearson still had the pressure of requiring a finish to secure second in the championship and that alone was a big ask in the brutal and world-renowned forests tests. But Pearson's season has gone from strength to strength and the Scot was one only a handful of drivers to emerge from the morning loop of stages with no dramas. His relaxed and calm approach throughout the afternoon, plus a scratch time over the final stage, ensured he could claim his first BRC win of his career.

The return of Ollie Mellors and the Proton Iriz Rally2 to the BRC proved to be a fruitful one, taking second spot, although not taking points away from the remaining championship contenders this weekend. However, a finish was looking unlikely at the halfway point, as the Michelin-backed Iriz pulled into the stop line of the Brenig test with the car driving at unfavorable angles. That was courtesy of a heavy impact with a log pile and Mellors admitted to being surprised that the car was still drivable after the hit on the rear corner. But the team repaired the issue back in service, ensuring Mellors and co-driver Ian Windress could secure their best BRC finish to date.

Steve Waugh and Mark Broadbent had already sealed the BRC4 championship at the Trackrod but were eager to gain experience of the North Wales stages ahead of next season and brought their Fiesta R2T home for yet another solid finish. Also competing on the Cambrian with a championship under his belt was Alan Carmichael in his Hyundai i20, taking back-to-back National Rally Titles thanks to his Yorkshire win. But co-driver Claire Williams wasn't assured of the same crown so the pairing headed for Wales to ensure they Williams could seal the deal, and they duly did, handing her the championship with a solid run.

With many titles already decided, the focus for the weekend was undoubtedly on the Junior British Rally Championship contenders, which was a head-to-head fight between Kyle White and Kyle McBride, with White just needing a finish to claim the crown that he had been trying to secure since 2021. McBride's pace was impressive, but White returned a mature drive over the remaining tests, doing all he needed to do to take the Junior BRC title back to Northern Ireland, even after his Peugeot 208 Rally4 had suffering a boost issue on the very first stage, expertly resolved by his service crew!

With the 2023 season done and dusted, the BRC award winners will have the opportunity to collect their silverware at a presentation at the Autosport International Show in January 11-14 January 2024 and attention now turns to next season and the reinvigoration of the series, as Probite steps forward as title sponsor and an exciting all-new six-round calendar heralds a new look to the championship.

29th October, 2023

Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally

The Motorsport UK British Rally Championship ends its 2023 season in the world-class gravel stages of North Wales, as the Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally plays host to the seventh and final round this weekend [28 October].

The race for the coveted BRC title was decided in the super-fast forests of Trackrod Rally Yorkshire back in September, as Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux took his fifth BRC win of the season to etch his name on the impressive trophy, alongside greats such as Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Ari Vatanen and many more.

He and co-driver Alexandre Coria dovetailed the BRC alongside a World Rally Championship WRC2 campaign in their Ford Fiesta Rally2, and it's due to that commitment, that will see them skip the season finale.

With the overall championship decided, the focus now turns to the remaining clashes not only for position in the standings but across the other categories in the series and the Llandudno-based event provides the perfect battleground to see out the season in style.

Iconic forest stages which saw the world's best drivers thread their top-flight machinery through the rugged landscape throughout the Wales Rally GB era of the World Rally Championship, will also host the BRC's final chapter of 2023 as the likes of Brenig, Elsi and Cloc Main will be familiar stages to fans and drivers alike.

Heading the BRC1 charge for the swansong is Duns driver Garry Pearson in his Volkswagen Polo GTi. The Scot has spent the season adapting to the VW on both surfaces and aside from an early exit on his home rally, the Jim Clark, has enjoyed a largely consistent points haul on each event. He will be looking to rubber-stamp his second place in the championship and on this occasion, he will be co-driven by Hannah McKillop.

Returning to the British Rally Championship for the first time since 2021 is Ollie Mellors in the Proton Iriz Rally2. His last BRC appearance was at the Cambrian Rally two years ago and has since switched his attention to events in France.

A recent victory at Rally National de Fourmies en Avesnois highlights his asphalt pace, but has been off gravel since February 2022, meaning he and co-driver Ian Windress may take a while to adapt.

Having wrapped up the BRC4 title, Steve Waugh will be able to relax for his second attempt at the Cambrian Rally. Having only started rallying in 2022, Waugh has spent much of the season learning events in his Fiesta R2T with co-driver Mark Broadbent alongside but has the benefit of some prior knowledge this time around.

Another to be heading to the final round with the crown in hand is National Rally Title champion Alan Carmichael. The Hyundai i20 driver did all he needed to in Yorkshire to take back-to-back titles but was conscience that co-driver Claire Williams could potentially be beaten so makes the trip over from Northern Ireland to ensure they both claim the spoils in 2023.

All eyes this year will be on the Junior British Rally Championship title duel between young chargers Kyle White and Kyle McBride. White has taken four victories so far this season and is in the box seat when it comes to the standings thanks to an impressive season behind the wheel of his Peugeot 208 Rally4.

He and co-driver Sean Topping have been the pacesetters this year and only an off-road excursion in Ypres blotted their copybook. It's a simple task for the pairing too, just finish; and that will be enough to take the crown back to Northern Ireland.

Waiting in the wings will be McBride and co-driver Liam McIntyre who recorded their first Junior win at the Trackrod. The Fiesta Rally4 crew are in the hands of the gods if they are to secure the crown but still need to keep their wits about them during the weekend.

The Visit Conwy Cambrian Rally gets underway from Llandudno seafront at 08:00 on Saturday morning, ahead of six stages in the nearby forests. The promenade will then welcome the BRC crews back later that day for the traditional champagne celebrations, just after 17:00.

23rd October, 2023

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