Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin secured a dominant victory on Sunday at FORUM8 Rally Japan as his Toyota Gazoo Racing team locked out the top three positions on home soil. The Welshman led from stage two onwards and never looked back.
Welsh driver Evans clinched his eighth career win by finishing a commanding 1min 17.7sec ahead of team-mate Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais at the final round of the season, confirming his place as the runner-up driver in the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship for the third time.
Evans did the hard work early in the asphalt fixture when he charged to a near-two-minute advantage in Friday’s rain-soaked opening leg. From then on, he was able to control the rally by adapting his risk level to suit the ever-changing conditions.
Kalle Rovanperä’s capture of the final podium spot capped off a perfect season for Toyota, which has heralded titles for Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen, as well as a third successive manufacturers’ championship victory.
“It was not easy with the conditions we had this week, even though we had a massive gap already after Friday night,” Evans said. “A massive thanks to the team, the car’s been great and a 1-2-3 for Toyota is a fantastic result.”
Ogier, who has undertaken a part-time programme in 2023, damaged his GR Yaris car’s chassis when he slid into a barrier on Saturday. The required repairs meant he exceeded his allocated service time, collecting a one-minute time penalty which ultimately prevented him from threatening Evans’ advantage.
He finished 28.8sec ahead of Rovanperä while Esapekka Lappi, driving a Hyundai i20 Rally1, held off Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta to claim fourth by 20.0sec.
Home hero Katsuta won nine of the rally’s 21 stages but ended just over three minutes adrift of victor Evans due to an incident on Friday morning. Without that incident, the 30-year-old could well have celebrated his maiden victory.
Ott Tänak was unable to strike a good balance with his M-Sport Ford Puma, and sixth place was all the Estonian could manage on his final outing for the British team.
WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen added another class victory to his tally as well as finishing seventh overall in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Behind him were fellow Rally2 battlers Nikolay Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz.