Neuville and Evans share Japan shakedown honors

Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans couldn't be split, but they both beat Sébastien Ogier by half a second


Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans jointly topped the shakedown stage for Rally Japan, edging Sébastien Ogier’s Toyota by half a second.

Uniquely, the final World Rally Championship shakedown stage of the season will actually be run as a spectator-friendly rally stage later on Thursday, albeit in reverse, as SS1 Kuragaike Park.

But because of that, the 1.7-mile test wasn’t fully representative of the gruelling challenge that awaits from Friday onwards.

However, with no pre-event testing permitted on-site for non-European rounds of the WRC, it was the drivers’ first opportunity to find their feet on Japanese terrain and dial in their setups for the rally ahead.

Neuville’s Hyundai was a consistent presence among the top of the timesheets, sharing quickest time with Evans after the first pass before being overhauled by Ogier.

But the Acropolis Rally winner turned up the wick on his third run, lowering the benchmark to a 2m04.6s that nobody could compete with until Evans’ late fourth run.

The Toyota driver had faded to seventh, but a late burst saw him draw level with Neuville and share the fastest time over shakedown.

Evans’ team-mate Ogier wound up just 0.1s up on M-Sport’s Craig Breen who was an encouraging third fastest on his first weekend with new co-driver James Fulton alongside him.


Ogier was also acclimatising to a new voice in his ears with Benjamin Veillas making way for Pierre-Louis Loubet’s regular navigator, Vincent Landais, in Japan.

Breen’s wasn’t the only Ford Puma Rally1 troubling the pointy end of the timesheet either, as team-mate Gus Greensmith set an identical time to Breen.

Gaps were tight throughout the field as world champion Kalle Rovanperä was just another 0.1s slower, 0.7s shy of Neuville’s pace, to complete the top six.

Ott Tänak was a muted seventh on his final weekend for Hyundai, 0.9s clear of his team-mate Dani Sordo.


Home hero Takamoto Katsuta was the slowest of the Rally1 runners, sharing eighth fastest time with Sordo; the third pair in the nine-car field to share a stage time with another competitor.

Emil Lindholm and Kajetan Kajetanowicz are squaring off to become 2022 WRC2 champion this weekend, and Lindholm earned an early psychological advantage with the quickest Rally2 time on shakedown.

He beat fellow Finn Teemu Suninen by 0.2s while Kajetanowicz could only manage the ninth best time. However the three-time European champion only did the shakedown stage once and Lindholm had four attempts.

Words:Luke Barry