Belgian Thierry Neuville took control of Rally Japan, the 13th and final round of the WRC World Championship, after the opening super special on Thursday evening at Toyota Stadium, in the heart of Toyota City in Aichi.
The Hyundai driver finished this first day far ahead of his main rival for second place in the championship, the Briton Elfyn Evans (Toyota), only 9th, almost 5 seconds behind. At the dawn of the last meeting of the season, only seven points separate the two drivers - Evans ahead of Neuville - while up to 30 points will be gleaned between now and Sunday.
The Finnish Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota), already assured of the world champion title, is 6th on the timesheet. “We were pretty bad on this special like many of our cars,” admitted the now double reigning champion. “Unfortunately, we are going to have to come back here twice, so we have to find the solution, because the car was quite difficult to drive,” he also explained after this opening special, which was only 2.1 km long. .
Behind Neuville, his Finnish teammate Esapekka Lappi and Estonian Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford) complete the Top 3. Engaged full-time this season with Hyundai, Lappi will only compete in a partial program with the team next year. South Korean, she announced earlier today.
He will team up with Neuville and Tänak, who will reunite with the manufacturer with whom he spent three years, from 2020 to 2022, after leaving before the end of his contract last year. Back in the premier category of the WRC for a stint with M-Sport Ford, Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux was 7th on Thursday evening, ahead of his compatriot Sébastien Ogier, 8th.
“It's never nice to lose four seconds straight away, but that's how it is. We have to understand why,” lamented the eight-time world champion in the discipline, engaged in a partial program with Toyota this year.
On Friday, the drivers will get down to business with seven special stages over 133 km.
Provisional classification for Rally Japan, 13th round of 13 in the World Rally Championship (WRC), at the end of Thursday:
1. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL/Hyundai) and 1:47.6
2. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/Hyundai) à 0.7
3. Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (EST/M-Sport Ford) à 1.4
4. Daniel Sordo/Candido Carrera (ESP, Hyundai) at 1.8
5. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (JAP/IRL, Toyota) 3.1
6. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Toyota) à 4.0
7. Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (FRA/Ford Fiesta) at 4.5
8. Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (FRA/Toyota) at 4.7
9. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (GBR, Toyota) à 4.9
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