The World Rally Championship heads east this week for its season finale at Rally Japan.
This year marks the second running of the Nagoya-based event, with the twisty and treacherous asphalt stages in the mountain regions of Aichi and Gifu providing a true challenge for the drivers.
With all major WRC titles decided heading into the event, there’s only one thing on the mind of the competitors: winning.
Here’s everything you need to know about Rally Japan 2023:
Total 36 crews
9 Rally1 crews
11 Rally2 crews (10 WRC2)
1 Rally3 crew (1 WRC3)
After double-digit entry numbers on the previous three rounds, the Rally1 class shrinks to nine crews for Japan.
That’s because the third entry from M-Sport Ford, piloted by Grégoire Munster and funded by Jourdan Serderidis, is no longer present. Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux returns to a Rally1 for the first time in over 12 months, partnering Ott Tänak on his final M-Sport outing in place of Pierre-Louis Loubet.
As on Central European Rally, the Toyota entry remains at four crews, with Sébastien Ogier making the eighth start of his part-time season. Takamoto Katsuta remains in the team’s fourth car and will not be scoring manufacturers’ points.
Hyundai will again enter three i20 Ns, but with one change to its lineup. Dani Sordo returns in-place of Teemu Suninen, marking the Spaniard’s first start since September’s Acropolis Rally Greece, in what could be his Rally1 swansong.
With the title secured after an all-out attack to win the powerstage on CER, Andreas Mikkelsen heads to Japan without any pressure and with the freedom to push for victory.
His Toksport WRT entry will be among the favorites in the 10-strong WRC2 class, along with fellow Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 drivers Nikolay Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Last year’s Japan winner Grégoire Munster also returns, fresh from two starts in a Rally1 car and armed with the updated Fiesta Rally2 which Adrien Fourmaux so convincingly took victory in on CER.
Also of note is the entry of 2023 Japanese rally champion and Formula 1 race winner Heikki Kovalainen, driving an older older Škoda Fabia R5, while the Japanese challenge will be headed by Osamu Fukunaga and Satoshi Imai, driving a Fabia Rally2 evo and Citroën C3 Rally2 respectively.
American Rally Association regular Jason Bailey will be the sole Rally3 entry, driving a Ford Fiesta in his third WRC3 start of 2023.
This year’s edition of Rally Japan comprises 22 stages over 189 competitive miles, up from last year’s 176 miles.
A key addition this time is a superspecial stage in Toyota Stadium, which will be run three times across the opening three days of the rally, starting with Thursday night’s opening test. The stadium, located east of the city of Nagoya, will also serve as the event’s service park and play host to both the ceremonial start and finish.
Friday is the longest day of the rally at 83 miles, with the drivers taking on the same trio of stages – Segami’s Tunnel, Inabu Dam and Shitara Town – that were the cause of so many mistakes last year. All three stages will be repeated in the afternoon following a lunchtime service, in contrast to the following days which will offer a tire fitting zone only between loops.
The crews head east of Nagoya for Saturday’s second leg, with 53 miles of action to enjoy. Two passes of the Nukata Forest and Lake Mikawako stages will be split by a double-run of the Okazaki City superspecial, with the day again closing with a short blast around Toyota Stadium.
Sunday sees 52 miles of competition to round-off Rally Japan and the 2023 WRC season. The team’s head north for two attempts at the Asahi Kougen, Ena City and Nenoue Kougen tests, with the 4.6 miles of Asahi Kougen hosting the afternoon’s powerstage.