Rovanperä hits rockface on SS8, Evans extends lead

The Toyota driver picked up a puncture in the process, costing him over two and a half minutes


A collision with a rockface has cost Kalle Rovanperä his third position on Rally Japan but he continued on with just a puncture, as Elfyn Evans laid down a marker to Thierry Neuville in the fight for victory.

This year’s world champion started Saturday firmly in the fight for the lead, just 5.1 seconds behind rally leader Evans and 2.1s shy of Neuville.

But very early on Saturday’s first stage, Nukata Forest, Rovanperä misjudged a tightening double-apex left-hander and slid his GR Yaris Rally1 into a rockface.

The thump was sizeable and Rovanperä fought to break the car clear of the stage-side ditch that lay beneath the rockface. However, aside from a flat tire that he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen got out to fix, the car appeared to escape scot-free.

“I went a bit wide in one corner and had a puncture, so we needed to change the puncture on the stage,” was Rovanperä’s simple explanation.


He lost close to three minutes and has now slid down to sixth place as a result.

That promoted Ott Tänak onto the podium on his final weekend for Hyundai.

“Tricky stage, especially the last part there is this grass in the middle,” Tänak commented. “We took it nicely through so no drama.”

Team-mate Neuville took SS8 more than nicely through though – he was on it.

Determined to deny Toyota a win on home soil, Neuville was a man on a mission and was up on Evans through the splits. But Evans managed to turn it around later on, and defeated Neuville by an impressive 2.9s to extend his lead to 5.9s.

“Pretty OK, usual story it’s not easy,” he said. “Quite demanding but all OK.”

Neuville countered: “I tried, I had a quite OK stage but in the very narrow I had too much information in my pacenotes and it was very difficult to keep concentrated. We did what we could.”

Off the podium, home hero Takamoto Katsuta is up to fourth with M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith now fifth, albeit almost two minutes behind Katsuta.

Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier have both now had punctures and are thus just 5.4s apart overall. Ogier set the third quickest time on Nukata Forest.

Craig Breen is the first car on the road on Saturday morning after his accident on Friday’s second test.

“Let’s not speak about yesterday,” he said, “just sorry for the boys and girls having to work again without any need.”

His restart wasn’t “the most ideal” either as Breen felt he had a soft rear-right tire for the back half of the stage.

Breen was sixth fastest, 17.6s off stage-winning pace.