Elfyn Evans leads Rally Japan from Thierry Neuville after a shortened Friday morning loop held in torrential weather.
Nobody really had a clean, or enjoyable, morning in absurdly wet conditions, but Hyundai’s Dani Sordo was the biggest loser as he locked the brakes and went off the road on the day’s first stage.
Takamoto Katsuta was also in the wars, suffering a spin and heavily damaging the front of his Toyota, while M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux – making his first Rally1 start in over a year – failed to make it to the end of SS2 as well, crashing in the same place as Sordo.
By comparison rally leader Elfyn Evans had a smooth run but described affairs as “all s***” in such extreme conditions. He won both stages of the morning though despite an overshoot on SS3 to lead the event by 26.0 seconds.
Sébastien Ogier was initially Evans’ closest challenger but dropped back on SS3 when his windshield fogged up – an issue that was even greater for Ott Tänak who dropped nearly three minutes, feeling “sea-sick” as he crouched down in his seat just to be able to see where he was going.
Neuville benefited from Ogier’s reduced pace, but felt the conditions were too dangerous to drive in.
“We shouldn’t be driving in there,” he said after SS3. “I have done many rallies in my life but I have never been as scared as in there.”
The organizer effectively listened to Neuville’s wishes as the final stage of the loop, SS4, was canceled as the weather meant operation of the medical helicopter could not be guaranteed.
As the cars therefore head back to service Ogier is third, 42.6s off the lead with WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen an incredible fourth overall, just 2.1s adrift of Ogier.
Running as first car on the road is usually a benefit on asphalt rallies but not in Japan with the heavy rain, leaves and pine needles making the road messy for world champion Kalle Rovanperä who was even aquaplaning on the straights!
The Toyota driver finds himself fifth overall after four stages, but already 1m36.4s adrift of his rally-leading team-mate.
Nikolay Gryazin is sixth overall and second in WRC2, with Esapekka Lappi seventh one spot ahead of M-Sport driver Tänak. Katsuta remains in the rally but five minutes down.