What didn’t you miss? That’s perhaps the better question to pose after a quite dramatic first full day (and loop in particular) of the World Rally Championship’s first visit to Japan since 2010.
With the rally unfolding at a rather unsociable hour for our European readers (we’ve done the math, and that’s where a lot of our DirtFish rally friends are), you may have been fast asleep and missed all of the Friday drama in Japan.
But no matter, this feature’s got you covered. Here’s a rundown of everything that happened:
Sordo’s Hyundai caught fire
It’s the sight absolutely nobody wants to see – a rally car burning out to a shell. But that was the reality that faced Dani Sordo and Cándido Carrera on the opening stage of Friday.
Battling with some smoke inside his cockpit and the smell of fuel for the first half of the stage, it was clear something wasn’t quite right. But approaching one right hander, something really wasn’t right as Sordo could see flames appearing in between the seats.
The car was swiftly stopped and he jumped out in a valiant attempt to tackle the blaze, but it was to no avail. The Hyundai burnt to the ground and became the first Rally1 car to do so.
Naturally, the stage was canceled and Sordo will be playing no further part in the action this weekend. You can read and watch Sordo’s full reaction to the fire here.
Breen crashed out
These are three words we’ve become used to typing in 2022 – it really hasn’t been Craig Breen’s season.
Japan offered the chance for a fresh start with new co-driver James Fulton sitting in for the first time in the wake of Paul Nagle’s retirement, but unfortunately it was an all too familiar story for M-Sport’s de facto number one.
Fifth through the opening stage, caught briefly behind Sébastien Ogier (more on him below), Breen described it “not such a bad start”. And it wasn’t. But on SS4 – the third stage canceled as a legacy of the delays caused by Sordo’s fire – Breen would end it off the road after losing grip on some loose leaves and going straight on, hitting and slipping under a guard rail.
Several itinerary changes
Only one of Friday’s six planned stages ran as originally intended, as Sordo’s fire and Breen’s accident forced a major revamp of the afternoon itinerary.
None of the morning’s stages ran without hitch as Isegami’s Tunnel and Shitara Town R were both red flagged, while Inabu Dam didn’t run at all.
But it was the second pass of Inabu Dam that did go ahead in full, as Isegami’s Tunnel was shortened to finish before where Sordo’s Hyundai burnt out and Shitara Town R was deemed unsafe to run again due to the damage Breen’s crash did to the barrier.
Ogier declares his rally over already
Leading the rally by one tenth of a second from Breen after Thursday evening’s short 1.7-mile blast, all seemed good in Ogier’s world on his first rally with new co-driver Vincent Landais.
But an all too familiar bugbear of the 2022 season bit him on Friday’s opener when Ogier punctured and dropped close to three minutes on the stage.
“I have no idea to be honest,” he said when asked where he picked up the flat. “It was very narrow with not a lot of grip in the road and I didn’t feel anything.
“Our race is already over.”
Unlike Sordo or Breen, Ogier was at least still in the race though (albeit close to three minutes off the lead) and fought back to 10th by the end of the leg.
Kajetanowicz squandered WRC2 title chance
Rally Japan proved it has teeth in the Rally2 class as well as up front in Rally1.
It was a trying morning for the WRC2 runners – particularly Sami Pajari given he had to avoid a civilian car heading towards him on one stage – as none of them got to complete a full stage in the morning as both SS2 and SS4 were red flagged and subsequently scrapped, while SS3 was canceled altogether.
But that didn’t stop a major development in the title race from unfolding. Just before SS2, Isegami’s Tunnel, was halted, Kajetan Kajetanoiwicz slipped up and crashed his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo on the first corner immediately out of the famous tunnel.
That immediately handed the initiative to Emil Lindholm who duly set the pace when the Rally2 cars finally got to complete a stage. But knowing all he needed was fifth place to secure the title, he backed off on the final stage of the day allowing Sami Pajari to grab the lead.
But with jeopardy lurking around every corner, Andreas Mikkelsen may win this thing after all.
Amid all of the chaos that the morning brought, it was a refreshing reprieve to contemplate the performances on the afternoon stages. Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans headed onto them sharing the overall rally lead, just 0.7 seconds clear of world champion Kalle Rovanperä.
But the afternoon belonged to Evans who moved into a three-second overnight lead over Neuville; Rovanperä another 2.1s back.
Ott Tänak and Takamoto Katsuta complete the top five.
Gus Greensmith is usually pretty good at finding a positive spin on a bad situation, but not in Japan.
In a sense he was lucky that the morning’s loop was so truncated as he revealed he was carrying a driveshaft problem as soon as he left the morning service. So Greensmith’s time loss was actually less than it was in the afternoon where his pacenotes were causing him strife.
“Worst set of notes I’ve ever written in my life, I was driving on sight in there,” Greensmith said after the final stage.
“Not much point doing tomorrow if they’re like that, so another long night.”
And the tone of voice in which he murmured those comments was massively disgruntled. It’s fair to say he wasn’t so impressed by the events of the morning either.
Greensmith’s sixth overall, but struggling to smile.