Saturday’s opening Rally Japan stage red flagged

SS9 Nukata Forest was halted as Thierry Neuville caught a safety car mid-stage

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The ninth special stage of Rally Japan was red-flagged amid a bizarre incident in which Thierry Neuville came across a safety car on the stage.

Nukata Forest was Saturday’s first competitive stage, but was already delayed for five minutes before first on the road Neuville eventually attacked it.

But less than halfway through, the Hyundai driver stopped as one of the event safety cars was parked on the side of the road.

Takamoto Katsuta, Ott Tänak and Esapekka Lappi all started the stage behind Neuville before it was red-flagged.

The stage did later restart; Kalle Rovanperä beginning it 19 minutes after he was scheduled to. Sébastien Ogier went fastest by 3.1 seconds over rally leader Elfyn Evans.

The FIA opened an initial investigaton and declared that the event zero can came across spectators standing in a dangerous location and stopped to ask them to move – which caused the delayed start.

Rally control was informed that the zero car had moved to a safe location and so the stage began, but a further FIA investigation has been opened in conjunction with the event organizer to “check that established safety protocols are respected”.