Elfyn Evans holds a slender advantage over Hyundai rival Thierry Neuville after the longest day of the rally for threw up challenges to the competitors. Evans has a 3 second gap to Neuville with his team mate Kalle Rovanperä a further 2.1 seconds back in 3rd.
With Japan back on the calendar for the first time since 2010, the all-asphalt rally was hotly anticipated. However, Japan returned with a vengance by claiming many drivers including Dani Sordo. The Spaniard was the first to be claimed with his car catching fire in stage two of the rally with the car being reduced to just its shell. The drama meant that the first pass of Inabu dam was cancelled due to delays which left Neuville and Evans level on time as they returned service to get ready for the afternoon.
SS7 was also wiped from the itinerary due to Craig Breen understeering into a barrier in his Ford Puma. Some barrier damage left the route unsafe leading to another cancelled stage, but Evans found his rhythm in the subsequent 2 stages to extend his lead over his Hyundai rival.
Evans was contemplative after his final run saying, “it’s been tough and quite short… we’re only four stages down but it’s not easy.”
The 2022 champion Rovanpera briefly led but the Finn battled with understeer from overheating tyres and dropped off the pace but enough to keep third.
Ott Tanak’s day didn’t go smoothly, the Estonian suffered a differential issue in his Hyundai through the morning leg which was fixed at service but the early issues would leave him 8.8 seconds back from Rovenpera in 3rd .
Takamoto Katsuta struggled in the first full day of his home rally and was another Toyota man that was struggling with understeer. Katsuta gained confidence as he went through the day but he finished 20.6 seconds back from the lead driver.
Gus Greensmith and Sebastian Ogier would have poor fortune. Greensmith had to nurse a broken drive shaft throughout the morning leaving him more than a minute back overnight leader Ogier had to stop and change a wheel, leaving the Frenchman 2 minutes 49.8 seconds off the pace with no hope of challenging for the lead.
Top six after Friday
- Evans 57min 18.8s
- Neuville +3s
- Rovanperä +5.1s
- Tanak +13.9s
- Katsuta +20.6s
- Greensmith +2min 4s