Elfyn Evans’ chances of winning Rally Japan look to be over as he lost close to two minutes with a puncture, giving Hyundai 1-2 at Toyota’s home round of the World Rally Championship.
Evans and Thierry Neuville have been closely matched throughout the entire rally; Evans leading overnight on Friday but Neuville overhauling him and carrying the advantage into Sunday.
That advantage stood at four seconds before the final day got underway, but Evans whittled it down to just six tenths heading into Sunday morning’s second test, Ena City.
However Evans was forced to stop and change a puncture and has therefore dropped out of victory contention and down to fourth.
“I was probably just a tad wide in a right hander, basically the notes were correct but I didn’t quite get them as early as I needed to slow the car down in time, there’s nothing I could do,” explained Evabs.
Neuville’s rally lead now stands at 1m02.1s over team-mate Ott Tänak.
“Was a challenging stage in there but wasn’t sure if I had done enough but it looks the time is good, so happy with that,” said Neuville.
“Obviously it’s a bit of a relief but it’s a shame for Elfyn as well, the fight was enjoyable. Obviously now it’s over so we have to be very clever now.”
Takamoto Katsuta is now in a podium place on his home event of the WRC but looked physically pained when the stage-end reported broke the news that Evans had a puncture.
“Never happy that a team-mate has some issues,” said Katsuta “OK, we need to survive.”
Toyotas are now third, fourth and fifth with Katsuta heading Evans by just 13.9s, with Sébastien Ogier in fifth – a minute behind Evans.
Craig Breen’s decision to take predominantly wet tires on Sunday morning forced him to drive with wet compound Pirellis on a bone-dry stage once again.
His pace was therefore incredibly sedate, losing 2m19.4s to Neuville’s fastest time, but with no chance of overall points he’s set himself up for a powerstage push where he is expecting rain.