Briton Elfyn Evans earned the honorary title of WRC world rally vice-champion at the end of the Japan Rally, the last round of the season which he won on Sunday ahead of his French teammate Sébastien Ogier. The Finnish Kalle Rovanperä, already assured of being world champion this year, finished 3rd and therefore allowed Toyota, crowned among the manufacturers, to sign a hat-trick on home soil. On the tricky Japanese roads, Evans - leading the rally since Friday - managed his mount perfectly, without taking too many risks once the competition had been sown.
“It wasn't easy with the conditions (weather, editor's note) that we had this week, even if we already had a significant gap on Friday evening,” admitted the 34-year-old Welshman. He won his third vice-championship title in the premier category, after those acquired in 2020 and 2021. A luxury freelancer for Toyota this season, Ogier scored his 4th podium of the season in Japan.
The eight-time world champion, who took part in only eight out of 13 rallies in 2023 (and won three), lost any chance of catching up with Evans, notably due to a one-minute penalty received for a late check-in after a slight exit from the road on Friday.
On Friday, many drivers made mistakes in difficult conditions on soggy Japanese roads covered with pine needles, and with almost zero visibility. The third special of the day (SS4) had also been canceled, the weather having been deemed too bad to ensure safety.
Among the victims, the Belgian Thierry Neuville – last contender with Evans for the title of runner-up to Rovanperä – lost everything after going off the road on Friday afternoon, while he was in provisional second place in the event. In accordance with WRC regulations, the Hyundai driver was able to leave on Saturday morning with a repaired car but, almost 30 minutes behind Evans at the end of the penultimate day, he had lost almost all chance of winning a 6th title runner-up in WRC rallying.
The Belgian still offers himself five anecdotal points in the championship after winning the last special stage of the rally – the “power stage”. He finished 3rd overall, ahead of Estonian Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford), 4th but only 6th in the rally. The Japanese Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota), 5th in the rally behind Finnish Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai), is the driver who has won the most special stages in Japan (nine out of 21), but he had to give in to the consistency of Evans – and especially after he too was surprised by the difficult road conditions on Friday, causing him to lose precious time.
After this mishap, if Katsuta was able to finish the day, the Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux, back in the premier category for a stint with M-Sport Ford, and the Spaniard Daniel Sordo (Hyundai), were forced to definitively throw away the sponge after leaving the road.