Thierry Neuville leads Rally Japan for the first time as he ripped the lead away from Elfyn Evans on the World Rally Championship finale.
Neuville found 2.6 seconds on Evans on the first test of Saturday afternoon but saved the best for SS12 Lake Mikawako – beating Evans by 5.9s to move into a two-second lead.
But asked if he had a sublime stage, Neuville replied: “Actually not. I did a good stage but I have a lot of trouble with the diff spinning all the time, luckily it’s the last proper stage of the day.”
Evans’ time loss was quite surprising, but he revealed he wasn’t quite as confident with his Toyota as he was in the morning – despite not changing anything in service.
“There wasn’t a lot left but it wasn’t like it was a good run neither,” Evans said. “I’ve lost my feeling with the front of the car a bit this afternoon.”
Having obliterated Gus Greensmith on the previous stage, Sébastien Ogier is now up to fifth overall and pulling clear in his Toyota – winning his second stage in succession.
But Greensmith was carrying a power-steering problem which he reported was “on and off” on SS11 and resurfaced on SS12 – but only at the very end.
“It was absolutely fine until the second-to-last corner. It was working until we got here,” Greensmith said.
Ogier meanwhile was trialing some different setups on his GR Yaris Rally1 with nothing left to push for ahead him.
“It’s not all positive,” he said, “but it’s all part of the learning.”
Team-mate Kalle Rovanperä was also testing some different things on his Toyota, and not pushing to his maximum because of it.
Ott Tänak and Takamoto Katsuta remain secure in third and fourth overall.