Ogier posts early lead in Rally Japan

Sébastien Ogier is contesting his first rally with Vincent Landais as a duo after parting company with previous co-driver Benjamin Veillas following last month's RallyRACC - Rally de España, and they made their intentions more than clear by winning the curtain-raiser at this final round.

Just five-tenths of a second blanketed the leading five drivers in slippery conditions at Kuragaike Park, which ran under the cover of darkness. Ogier gained the edge, however, edging Craig Breen's M-Sport Ford Puma by a single tenth in the 2.8km blast. He praised Landais' work so far but admitted the going will get tougher on Friday when crews face six grueling tests around Aichi.

Craig Breen was second and Ott Tänak, contesting his final rally for Korean squad Hyundai Motorsport, completed the early podium, trailing Ogier by a mere two-tenths with i20 N colleague Thierry Neuville only one-tenth behind.

Fifth place went to Kalle Rovanperä, who took a no-heroics approach to the technical opener. Behind him was GR Yaris colleague Elfyn Evans - another man under no illusions of the challenge which lays in wait. Local ace Takamoto Katsuta ended 1.9sec shy of the frontrunning pace with Gus Greensmith's Ford Puma, just three-tenths down. Spain's Dani Sordo was ninth in another Hyundai while WRC2 pacesetter Emil Lindholm completed the early leaderboard.

The stage was cancelled for later runners after local hero Toshiro Arai suffered a heavy crash in his Citroën C3 Rally2. Both Arai and co-driver Naoya Tanaka were taken to hospital for medical checks.

10th November, 2022