Rally Japan marked the end of another year in the World Rally Championship, with the technical roads and terrible conditions giving the driver’s perhaps their greatest challenge of the season.
For some, it was a challenge that brought out the best in them, while others paid a heavy price for mistakes.
With plenty to ponder heading into the off-season, here are Colin Clark’s final driver ratings of 2023:
Elfyn Evans 9/10
Rally Japan result: 1st
When the weather closed in, Evans relied on his instinct to guide his GR Yaris Rally1 through some of the most treacherous conditions we’ve seen in a long time.
And it seems Evans’ instincts are far more tuned-in to those challenging conditions than anyone else’s.
It was the perfect way for Evans to conclude a season that he will feel far better about than 2022. I reckon there’s still a bit of work to do before Elfyn can honestly say he’s consistently comfortable with this car, but that can only mean there’s room for him to get even more competitive and score even more points in 2024.
Evans will effectively lead the Toyota team next year and I’ve no doubt he’s fully up to all the expectations that will undoubtedly come with that position.
Sébastien Ogier 7/10
Rally Japan result: 2nd
A small mistake on Friday afternoon meant that any outside chance Ogier had to put pressure on Evans was gone. From then on, Seb did what we all know he can do all day long, he drove safely and conservatively to the end of the rally to take yet another podium finish.
Ogier only really competes these days to win – but there’s no question he knows the value of delivering a team performance when that’s what’s demanded. And there’s no better man than Ogier in situations like this and that’s why he’ll be back next year doing what he does best.
Kalle Rovanperä 7/10
Rally Japan result: 3rd
Really struggled with running first on the road while the almost monsoon-like conditions swept across the stages on Friday morning.
He very much played his part in securing the historic Toyota podium lockout but never really seemed entirely comfortable on the slower, tight and twisty roads of Rally Japan.
Takamoto Katsuta 9/10
Rally Japan result: 5th
Without any question the most impressive performance of Taka-san’s career. OK, so he made a very small mistake in the most challenging of conditions on Friday morning, but take that out, and it’s conceivable that he could have won this one.
We all know that Taka has pace, but putting that together to consistently win stage after stage has been something that’s been beyond Katsuta’s ability – until now.
Is this a genuine step forward in terms of competitiveness? Well we won’t know that until next season but the composure and intelligence shown in Japan suggests it could well be.
Thierry Neuville 3/10
Rally Japan result: 13th
Did all the hard work to survive Friday morning’s carnage, then slashed Evans’ lead in the afternoon’s opening stage only to throw it all away in a moment of absolute brain fade on SS6.
Great champions are very offend typified by their ability to make the right decisions at the right time – and Neuville’s decision to go flat out to try and overhaul Evans in SS6 was quite clearly not very bright!
Neuville is right up there in terms of his ability, but there are one or two worrying failings that he really must overcome if he is to challenge for next year’s crown.
Esapekka Lappi 6/10
Rally Japan result: 4th
This was the kind of performance that EP had to deliver – steady, safe and well thought through. And on top of that, he showed that when the pressure is on, he has the ability to lift his pace and respond.
Katsuta’s relentless charge towards fourth spot seemed unstoppable – until Esapekka showed an impressive turn of pace in SS20 to all but end Toyota’s hopes of a 1-2-3-4 finish.
Lappi is very much a confidence driver and this result will stand him in good stead ahead of his part-time 2024 program.
Dani Sordo 2/10
Rally Japan result: DNF
The place where Sordo went off was almost undriveable in the conditions that he encountered, so it’s difficult to be overcritical. Having said that, I’d have got through in my rented Rav4 so maybe we should be more critical.
Two goes at Rally Japan and Sordo has completed a rather ignominious two stages – that is very un-Sordo like and frankly not good enough.
Ott Tänak 5/10
Rally Japan result: 6th
Well it was a fairly moody Tänak who said a subdued goodbye to M-Sport here in Japan after what has been a difficult and disappointing season for both parties.
The conditions on Friday presented Tänak with a real opportunity – he’s told us many times that when it comes down to pure performance, the car just isn’t quite there. But Friday wasn’t about that, Friday was about instinct, ability and experience, and Tänak has all of those in abundance. What he doesn’t have, however, are x-ray eyes, and a constantly fogging windscreen made things almost impossible.
Next year is shaping up to be mighty interesting and I can only hope that with better results comes a more amenable Tänak. Although at times he seems to be doing his best to prove otherwise, an on form Tänak is not only a delight to watch on the stages, but a delight to talk to off them. I’m looking forward to the day that we once again get the opportunity to enjoy that side of one of our sport’s biggest characters.
Adrien Fourmaux 2/10
Rally Japan result: DNF
Again, it’s very difficult to be critical – that corner, in those conditions, was as close to a guaranteed off as you’ll see on a rally stage.
Fourmaux is a very different and much improved driver this year and I look forward to seeing him back out in a Rally1 car in 2024.