On the eve of the 13th and final round of the season played in the center of the country, only seven points separate Elfyn Evans from Thierry Neuville - while up to 30 points will be up for grabs between now and Sunday. On Japanese roads that are narrower and more winding than in Europe, if Evans - second overall - wants to believe in his chances of victory, the Welshman arrives cautiously in the land of the Rising Sun. “It's definitely not an easy rally, but we were in contention for victory for a long time last year,” said the Toyota driver. “Even though we know most of the stages from last year, there are still unknowns because we cannot do tests in advance on these types of roads,” he continued.
And watch out for Neuville too, in excellent form after scoring 29 points out of 30 possible during the last round at the end of October, in Central Europe. Last year, the Belgian driver from Hyundai - five times rally runner-up - also won on Japanese soil for the return of the Japan WRC rally after twelve years of absence. Enough to further boost the confidence of the Belgian. Besides Evans and Neuville, the Estonian Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford) is still mathematically in the race for second place in the championship, but at 29 points behind the Briton, his chances are slim.
On paper, however, Toyota remains favorite, and not only because the rally will start on Thursday at Toyota Stadium, in the heart of Toyota City in Aichi. Guaranteed to win the manufacturers' title, the Japanese brand has already won seven out of twelve rallies this season, compared to only three for M-Sport Ford and two for Hyundai. In addition to Evans and his now double world champion Kalle Rovanperä, titled at the end of the Central European Rally, Toyota will be able to count on the presence of the eight-time world champion in the discipline Sébastien Ogier.
Engaged in a partial program with the manufacturer, the 39-year-old Frenchman intends to honor his past status: “even if we have already achieved our main objectives for the season as a team, as a Toyota driver, I feel always responsible for trying to get a victory at home in Japan. A success which would be the fourth this season, in eight rallies.