Takamoto Katsuta has jumped up three positions to sixth on Rally Japan and is putting Ott Tänak under considerable pressure for fifth.
Katsuta has shown electric speed all weekend long on his home rally, but a mistake on SS2 threw away any chance of victory.
The Toyota driver, who labelled that the biggest disappointment of his season, has put that to one side and kept the hammer down to vault from ninth to sixth over the course of Saturday afternoon.
One by one the three leading Rally2 cars – Nikolay Gryazin, Grégoire Munster and Andreas Mikkelsen – were picked off by Katsuta, but these were relatively easy meat given the pace differential between the two classes of car.
M-Sport’s Ott Tänak proved a much tougher obstacle, and so far Katsuta hasn’t been able to leapfrog him. But the overall gap between the pair is now just 3.6s in Tänak’s favor having been 12.4s at the start of the loop.
Out front, Elfyn Evans’ lead has continued to shrink but he still remains over a minute clear of Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier, with Kalle Rovanperä protecting the home team’s provisional podium lockout.
Esapekka Lappi is fourth, 30.1s up the road from the Tänak/Katsuta battle.
Andreas Mikkelsen and Grégoire Munster’s epic battle for Rally2 honors has continued to rage. Mikkelsen is 5.5s ahead of Munster, but the M-Sport driver may well have been ahead had he not had to stop his Ford Fiesta Rally2 on SS13 as it briefly shut down.
Thierry Neuville successfully negotiated the afternoon but lost his hybrid unit for SS15 Shinshiro City – one of the faster stages of the rally. He is still outside the top 10, which is now propped up by Kajetan Kajetanowicz as Heikki Kovalainen retired with transmission trouble.
One final run of the Toyota Stadium superspecial remains on Saturday, the other side of a service break.