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