Takamoto Katsuta has overhauled Ott Tänak into fifth place on Rally Japan and has just 16.2 seconds to make up if he wants to steal fourth from Esapekka Lappi.
Ever since he lost several minutes with an incident on Friday morning, Katsuta has been on a mission on his home event – winning more stages than anyone else throughout the weekend.
Starting Sunday’s final leg, Katsuta had a 14.9s deficit to M-Sport’s Tänak and set about whittling that gap down.
Reducing it to 9.6s on the opening test of the day, Katsuta then closed to just 0.4s behind Tänak after SS18 and finally made his move on SS19, moving into fifth place by a convincing 20.0s.
It wasn’t a flawless run on the morning’s final stage though, as Katsuta kissed an Armco barrier on the outside of a hairpin.
“Of course I need to push so I was using the barriers like Sweden! It was like Mario karting,” he said.
“The barrier was soft enough and bounced me back on the road so it was even quicker. It’s OK.”
Tänak felt he was powerless to defend against the Toyota.
“We have nothing to fight against him, nothing we can do about that,” he said.
“The balance is bad it feels like we are driving with a puncture at the front. It’s nothing new this year, it’s just not working.”
Lappi meanwhile was struggling in the wet conditions aboard his Hyundai. Small flurries of snow had hit the stages as anticipated, and the Finn dropped 24.7s to Katsuta over course of the loop.
“Not good, I can’t do anything more,” Lappi said. “I just can’t.”
The battle for Rally2 honors looks to have been settled in Andreas Mikkelsen’s favor as M-Sport’s Grégoire Munster spun on the middle stage of the loop.
Arriving at stage-end missing most of his front bumper, he said: “It didn’t seem so slippery, like no dead leaves or something I think it was just a change of surface. The car spun directly and I couldn’t keep it under control with the throttle. Big time loss.”
It cost Munster over 20s and he now trails Mikkelsen overall by 30.9s.
Out front, Toyota remains on course for its 1-2-3 finish on home soil. Elfyn Evans leads the way by 1m24.6s over Sébastien Ogier with world champion Kalle Rovanperä third.
“I thought the last one was bad, but this one was even worse, came as bit of a surprise,” Evans said at the end of the loop.