Elfyn Evans has nudged ahead of Thierry Neuville to lead Rally Japan as Friday afternoon’s loop began.
After a chaotic morning in which Dani Sordo’s car burnt out and Craig Breen crashed, it was almost overlooked that Evans and Neuville shared the overall lead at first service.
But once battle resumed, it was Evans who got his nose ahead on a shortened Isagemi’s Tunnel test that no longer featured the tunnel for which it was named after as the test was shortened after Sordo’s fire.
Asked to describe his run, Evans said: “Clean, quite clean. A bit better than this morning, a bit more consistent at least but there’s still some tricky places, and busy obviously.”
The Toyota driver outpaced Neuville’s Hyundai by 1.1 seconds to hold the same advantage overall, but Neuville was at least happier with the performance of his Hyundai.
“It was a clean run,” he said. “Enjoying bit more the car now, bit better balance.
“Obviously we have confirmed the pacenotes from the first pass so we were able to go a bit harder.”
Kalle Rovanperä had trailed the joint leaders by just 0.7s before SS4, but slipped back a touch on SS5 to 5.4s off his team-mate’s lead.
Having struggled with understeer on the first pass, Rovanperä had made some changes for the better.
“We tried to change the balance of the car a bit, I think it can be better in places now,” he said.
“For sure this stage is not so bad for the understeer but let’s see for the other ones where we have more space.”
Rovanperä’s third place may be under threat from Ott Tänak though, as Tänak was 1.3s quicker on the stage. He’s fourth, 7.1s in arrears of Rovanperä and with a working transmission once more.
Takamoto Katsuta declared himself happier with the feeling in his Toyota but was exercising some caution. He’s in fifth spot, comfortably clear of Gus Greensmith who was hampered by a driveshaft problem on the morning loop.
Greensmith’s time on SS5 was poor, 17s off the pace, but he wasn’t concerned by it.
“There’s nothing really to fight for and I didn’t have a first pass this morning so it’s quite difficult to be quick straight out of the blocks,” he said.
Sébastien Ogier is another with little to fight for after picking up a puncture on the first pass of Isegami’s Tunnel.
He looked set to beat team-mate Evans to the fastest stage time but dropped back in the final split, feeling that may be a result of not contesting the section at full speed in the morning.