Will Neuville’s Rally Japan prediction come true?

Who will prevail in Sunday's Rally Japan Thierry Neuville vs Elfyn Evans showdown? Our writers have their say

2022JAPAN _FD_ 195

Thierry Neuville was adamant. Elfyn Evans led Rally Japan by three seconds, but he wouldn’t for much longer.

Staring down the DirtFish camera lens on Friday night, Neuville shared his prediction.

“Toyota is still in the lead but tomorrow’s going to be our day,” he said.

“And Sunday.”

Perhaps Neuville should become a fortune teller. Saturday was indeed his day – even if it didn’t start out that way. Sunday? That’s the million-dollar question. But this close to a victory on Toyota’s turf, Neuville isn’t willing to give an inch.

“It was only a guess, but obviously it worked,” he said, referring to his comments the previous evening.

“So tomorrow is going to be our day again. And if it works we should end up as the leader [winner]. That will be the target.”

Four seconds are all that split Neuville and Evans heading into Sunday’s final leg, and it’s a long final leg with just six fewer competitive miles than on Saturday. And to make matters even more enticing, rain is forecast.

Nothing therefore is settled. Nothing is decided – other than the mindset of both drivers. Evans isn’t planning to let this one slip either, even if he feels he’s on the back foot.

“It’s a big shame obviously to have an advantage turned into a deficit,” he said.

“[We’ll have our] work cut out tomorrow now but of course we’re up for it.

“Four seconds could be not a lot either way, so let’s see how it goes.”

But how will it go? Will Neuville hold on and break a Hyundai team record with a fifth win in a World Rally Championship season, or can Evans grab a 2022 victory, and the home win Toyota craves, at the final time of asking?

Our writers’ have had their say:


Neuville’s struck at the perfect moment

The dream is almost a reality. Coming into Japan, Neuville nailed his colors to the mast early on, stating that his target was to ruin Toyota’s homecoming by winning the event in his Hyundai i20 N Rally1.

Through Friday and the opening stages of Saturday it looked like Neuville could fail in his mission. He was in the mix but Evans was just a shade too fast, looking the more comfortable of the two.

But as Saturday progressed, the tables began to turn and on SS11 Neuville started to lay down the marker. Then a stage later his rapid pace through Lake Mikawako shifted him into the lead.

And it was that performance that showed exactly why Neuville is the more likely of the pair to go on and win.

He’s found the sweet spot at the perfect moment, and with momentum now swinging in his direction he will be hard pushed to let it go.

All throughout Saturday, Neuville has made it clear that he’s driving within himself to make sure there’s no mistakes, and that’s vital.

Not because he’s avoiding risk, but because there’s even more performance for him to find, and he won’t need to work hard to find it.

Being the final rally of the season changes things as well. The championships are all done and dusted. This is just for honor, not a title.

Neuville can now throw the kitchen sink at winning on Sunday. He can go all-or-bust, and by the sounds of it with deputy team director Julien Moncet’s blessing too.

Moncet is happy to gamble on set-up to win, but Evans can’t play it the same way.


Evans is on Toyota’s home turf, and with both Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä out of the reckoning, everything rests on his shoulders to at least bring home a podium result at the very least.

It stacks the odds firmly in Neuville’s favor and, with the way he’s driven today, I don’t see that changing before the finish line tomorrow.

Rob Hansford

Psychologically Neuville is ahead

Elfyn Evans has clearly found something this weekend. The pace and performance has been far more representative of what we’ve grown used to expecting – and that’s been a joy to see.

“Naturally I had to change some stuff because we can’t carry on like we were in Spain,” he admitted.

What has he changed? “That’s my job to know”. But it’s certainly clear that whatever he’s tweaked to tune himself to the car has had the desired effect.

That was until Saturday afternoon where Evans lost the feeling from the front of his Yaris and the pace began to drop. A 6.5-second lead became a four-second deficit.

It’s an all too familiar story for Evans this season. He’s shown plenty of rally-leading and stage-winning speed, but maintaining that for the entire event has proved a struggle. What’s paramount is that he rediscovers the correct feeling on Sunday morning, as otherwise this battle with Neuville can swiftly be forgotten.


But here’s the rub. Neuville knows he has Evans covered in a one-on-one duel anyway. Remember Argentina 2017? Monte 2020? Or Spain last year? On all these occasions, when Neuville has battled Evans for a win on the final day, Neuville has prospered.

It’s impossible to know how much that’ll really affect Evans, or even if it’ll affect him at all. But that’s not what really matters. What really matters is how that affects Neuville.

A difficult 2015 season aside, Neuville has never lacked confidence in his own abilities. Put him up against anyone and he’d back himself. Put him up against Evans and he has the evidence to prove that he’s unequivocally right to back himself.

There’s even more performance for Neuville to find, and he won’t need to work hard to find it Rob Hansford

Of course he’s not naive enough to feel the job is already complete, but Neuville’s equally astute enough to know that he’s the one in the driver’s seat. Psychologically, he likely would be – even if he was behind

Evans won’t roll over, but Neuville’s prediction that he will be in charge come Sunday afternoon is looking very hard to disagree with.

Luke Barry