Compared to the chaotic Friday, Saturday’s leg of Rally Japan 2022 was a rather sedate affair. And all things considered, that was probably a good thing.
However it did mean that the action was, unfortunately, far less exciting than the show on offer 24 hours earlier.
There were some casualties and developments throughout the field though, so here are the main talking points you missed if you were busy catching your beauty sleep when the day unfolded:
Rovanperä’s wheel drama
Kalle Rovanperä was an outside bet for victory after Friday’s leg, just over five seconds shy of his rally leading team-mate. But just a few minutes onto the first stage of the day, Rovanperä’s rally went south.
On a tightening left-hander, Rovanperä ran it too deep and smacked the side of a rockface with the front-right corner of his Toyota. He was lucky to escape with only a puncture, but the deflation was instant and he lost two minutes getting out to change it.
However, that was just the start of it. Another moment, which Rovanperä was keen to keep obscure, occurred on the second of the morning’s three stages and severely bent another wheel.
With just one spare, Rovanperä no longer had four healthy wheels and tires to bolt onto his Yaris. He could either drive SS10 with a punctured tire, or a bent wheel. He chose the first option, dropped a minute and then lost another minute for checking into the stage six minutes late as well.
The world champion’s afternoon was spent trying different settings on his Yaris and the pace was therefore relaxed. He’s 11th overall overnight.
Ogier rose into top five
Sébastien Ogier must be wondering what might have been. A puncture on Friday morning’s opener has robbed him of the chance to fight for anything meaningful, and although the setup wasn’t immediately to his liking his pace since would suggest he could have been right up there.
Keeping his head down, Ogier’s motive now is to just enjoy himself and target some stage wins to feed his competitive nature. He managed to claim half of them, immediately vaulting past the leading WRC2 competitors in the morning and deposing M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith (who had an intermittent power-steering issue) of fifth in the afternoon.
Like Rovanperä, Ogier tried some different setups in the afternoon too at the request of the Toyota team, so all in all it was a productive Saturday for the outgoing world champion.
Evans had the lead (and the feeling) then lost it
There were questions hanging over Elfyn Evans’ head when he headed out onto Saturday’s stages? He’d been here before on day two this season, but faded away. Could he keep the feeling and defend his lead?
The answer was yes, but it was also no.
Converting a three-second lead into a 6.5s advantage come midday service represented a solid day’s work. But Thierry Neuville remained as hungry as ever for a Rally Japan win on Toyota’s home soil, and hit back in the afternoon.
However it wasn’t Neuville, but rather Evans himself, that tipped the balance in the Hyundai driver’s favor. Despite not radically changing anything to his Yaris, Evans didn’t have the same confidence from the front end in the afternoon and it told.
With such a meaty Sunday on offer, and the potential of rain to fall and shake things up, the contest is far from over. But Evans heads into that showdown on the back foot, four seconds behind his prey.
Lindholm’s on target
With Kajetan Kajetanowicz unable to restart on Saturday – the damage to his Škoda too great to continue – Emil Lindholm’s route to the WRC2 title had become a lot simpler.
All he needed to do was score nine points from the weekend and he would surpass Andreas Mikkelsen and win the championship.
Yet Lindholm didn’t drive like somebody in conservation mode. Beginning the day in third, he could slip back two places and still be in a championship-winning position. But instead he shot into the lead, and simply drove off into the distance.
His life was made easier by a 50 second time penalty for Teemu Suninen who left midday service five minutes late, but Lindholm had the measure of Suninen anyway who wasn’t sounding particularly happy with life aboard his Hyundai.
Sami Pajari’s pace dropped compared to Friday as well, so even though Lindholm wasn’t necessarily on the ragged edge his overnight lead stands at 47.6s.
“This has been a good day for us,” he said “Actually these stages today are quite nice although challenging. We’ve had fun. Looking good for tomorrow now.”