Thierry Neuville has responded to Elfyn Evans’ Saturday charge on Rally Japan, taking time back out of the leader as Takamoto Katsuta flirted with disaster.
Evans began Saturday three seconds up on Neuville, and despite falling behind in the early splits, almost doubled his lead to 5.9 seconds on the morning’s opening test.
But the tide turned the other way on SS9 Lake Mikawako as Neuville, who had the “first smooth, clean stage” of the weekend, stole 1.2s back from Evans.
“I didn’t have the best run in here to be honest, the start was especially bad,” admitted Evans.
Home hero Katsuta was lucky to avoid serious damage on Lake Mikawako when he out-braked himself at a square right junction and rode up a bank.
His Toyota was also sliding around a lot beneath him towards the end of the test, meaning he was a touch agitated by the time he reached the stage-end.
“That was just my mistake, maybe I braked a bit late,” Katsuta said of his overshoot, “but otherwise this end of the stage I have no info that it’s very slippy.
“I could not drive like this, it was so… you know, dangerous for me.”
Third placed Ott Tänak wasn’t much happier either, slipping into no man’s land with a car setup he feels was “not a good direction for the day”.
He elaborated: “It’s too soft, it’s not so nice at the moment, it’s very hard to find the balance.”
Gus Greensmith’s fifth place is now looking increasingly insecure as Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier is hunting down at a rapid rate.
Beginning SS9 20.4s ahead of Kalle Rovanperä and 25.8s ahead of Ogier, Greensmith confessed he was “just cruising” and as a result, has a GR Yaris Rally1 breathing down his neck.
Rovanperä actually dropped further time to Greensmith on the stage as he struggled with damage picked up on the previous test when he hit a rockface, but Ogier was 15.4s faster than Greensmith to close to 10.4s behind.
Ogier was the quickest driver on the stage while Rovanperä was the slowest in the Rally1 class.
“There was something on one right corner where we got a bit close but it was not even a big hit, so yeah,” he said, with his front-right wheel carrying some damage.
“I have no spares and the car is not 100% with the right corner, it’s not working and turning so well.”
Craig Breen said he didn’t want to talk about his incident on Friday at the end of Saturday’s opening test, but chose to open up to the stage-end reporter at the end of Lake Mikawako.
“Unfortunately yesterday and the last six months have taught me that the margin I think I have is not quite there,” he said.
“The way things are now, if I try to push a bit something seems to happen immediately. I just need to bide my time.”
Breen’s mission now is just to “get through” the rally.