Elfyn Evans remains safe in the lead of Rally Japan, comfortably over a minute clear of Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier.
Evans already held a healthy margin on the final round of the World Rally Championship season, but when Ogier incurred a one-minute time penalty for leaving final Friday service six minutes late as Toyota repaired damage to his rollcage, Rally Japan has been Evans’ to lose.
And with Toyota currently occupying a dream 1-2-3 on home soil with Kalle Rovanperä in third, none of the works Yaris drivers have been risking anything on Saturday morning.
The day’s first test was red flagged as Thierry Neuville came across the zero car at the side of the road, but he was credited with the fastest time once the organizer had dished out notional times for him, Takamoto Katsuta, Ott Tänak and Esapekka Lappi who had all started SS9 before it was interrupted.
Katsuta was then quickest on SS10 before Evans won the two short Okazaki City superspecical stages that rounded out the morning loop.
“I’m happy with my superspecial, that’s not normally something I can say so often,” Evans said. “On the second one I was too careful with the tire which cost us time, but it’s OK.”
Evans’ overall advantage is 1m35.5s over Ogier, with Rovanperä beginning Saturday 16.7s adrift of Ogier but ending the morning 35.2s behind.
Hyundai’s Lappi has moved ahead of the battling Rally2 cars, leading WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen by 2.8s.
Mikkelsen though is enjoying a titanic battle for RC2 honors with M-Sport’s Grégoire Munster who is a mere 3.4s in arrears.
Katsuta has eighth-placed Tänak in his sights, trailing the M-Sport Puma pilot by 12.4s after SS12. But the Japanese was only 8.6s behind before the two superspecials, regretting being so aggressive and charismatic with his driving on the short test.
Both drivers are poised to pass Nikolay Gryazin’s Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 though; Gryazin heading Tänak by just 1.5s