Elfyn Evans secured a lights-to-flag victory on Sunday at WRC Rally Japan as his Toyota Gazoo Racing team locked out the top three positions on home asphalt.
The Welshman (above) clinched his eighth career win, and third of the season, by finishing a dominant 1m17.7s ahead of teammate Sebastien Ogier at the final round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship. The result confirmed Evans as the runner-up in WRC points for the third time in four seasons.
Evans laid the foundations for victory early in the all-asphalt fixture when he charged to a near-two-minute advantage in Friday’s rain-soaked opening leg in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1. From then on, he was able to control the rally by adapting his risk level to suit the ever-changing conditions.
Kalle Rovanpera took the final podium spot, capping off a near-perfect season for Toyota which includes repeat WRC titles for Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen, plus a third successive manufacturers’ championship victory for the Japanese marque.
Elfyn Evans and co-driver Scott Martin headed a 1-2-3 for Toyota on its home asphalt. Toyota Gazoo Racing photo
“It was not easy with the conditions we had this week, even though we had a massive gap already after Friday night,” said Evans. “A massive thanks to the team — the car’s been great and a 1-2-3 for Toyota is a fantastic result.”
Eight-time WRC champ Ogier, who’s taken in a part-time program in 2023, damaged his GR Yaris’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.
Ogier finished 28.8s ahead of Rovanpera, while Esapekka Lappi, driving a Hyundai i20 Rally1, held off Toyota’s fourth entry, home hero Takamoto Katsuta, to claim fourth by 20.0s.
Katsuta was fastest through nine of the rally’s 21 stages, but ended just over three minutes adrift of winner Evans due to a car-damaging and time-losing incident on Friday morning. Without that misdemeanor, the 30-year-old could well have celebrated his first WRC victory.
Ott Tanak was unable to find a decent balance with his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1, and sixth place was all the Estonian could manage on his final outing for the British-based team. The 2019 WRC champ returns to Hyundai Motorsport’s lineup next season.
Ott Tanak ended his single-season detour to M-Sport Ford with an out-of-sorts sixth-place finish. M-Sport photo
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Andreas Mikkelsen was in a league of his own and took victory by more than a minute. Mikkelsen wrapped up the class title a fortnight ago at Central European Rally, and the win here in Japan was his fourth of the season.
“This one was really nice,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s been a really challenging weekend and I think our experience was key here. We made the difference on the first two stages and then from then on we tried to control it.”
Newly-crowned WRC2 champ Andreas Mikkelsen took his fourth class win of the season. McKlein/Motorsport Images
The Norwegian headed home Nikolay Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz for an all-Skoda Fabia RS WRC2 podium.
Pole Kajetanowicz’s podium secured the WRC2 Challenger crown, an accolade introduced this season for WRC2-registered crews who have not previously won a title with Rally2 machinery at WRC level.
The WRC returns in a little over two months from now, with the asphalt Alpine stages — and possible ice and snow — of the Monte Carlo Rally opening the 2024 season, Jan 25-28.
WRC Rally Japan, final positions after Leg Three, SS21
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3h32m08.8s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m17.7s
3 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m46.5s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m50.3s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnson (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3m10.3s
6 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Puma Rally1) +3m28.3s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +7m33.7s
8 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Sloda Fabia RS – WRC2) +8m49.6s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +19m25.9s
10 Hiroki Arai/Hiroki Tachikui (Peugeot 208 Rally 4 – RC4) +22m22.7s
Final WRC Drivers’ Championship after 13 rounds
1 Rovanpera 250 points
2 Evans 216
3 Thierry Neuville 189
4 Tanak 174
5 Sebastien Ogier 133
Final WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 13 rounds
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing 548 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 432
3 M-Sport Ford 287
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