Japanese manufacturer team dominates home rally to end 2023 WRC season with another victory.
Elfyn Evans secured a lights-to-flag victory on Sunday at FORUM8 Rally Japan as his Toyota Gazoo Racing team locked out the top three positions on home soil.
Welsh driver Evans clinched his eighth career win by finishing a dominant 1min 17.7sec ahead of team-mate Sébastien Ogier at this 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 laid the foundations for glory 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 misdemeanour, 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. He returns to Hyundai Motorsport’s line-up next season.
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.
Kajetanowicz’s result of second in WRC2 Challenger was enough for him to beat Gryazin to that title, and he becomes the first driver to win the series since it was introduced at the beginning of the year.*
The WRC returns in 2024 when Rallye Monte-Carlo opens the new season from 25 – 28 January.
*Subject to confirmation of results by the FIA
1. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris 3h 32m 8.8s
2. S Ogier / V Landais FRA Toyota GR Yaris +1m 17.7s
3. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +1m 46.5s
4. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Hyundai i20 N +2m 50.3s
5. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +3m 10.3s
6. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma +3m 28.3s.