The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team experienced late heartbreak in its goal of closing out the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship season with a victory at home in Japan.
The return of Rally Japan to the WRC calendar for the first time since 2010 was highly challenging for teams, drivers and co-drivers, with an entirely new event held on demanding and twisting asphalt roads in the mountains of the Aichi and Gifu prefectures.
The GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID performed strongly from the beginning, and would win 11 out of 16 stages over the weekend. Unfortunately, a handful of small incidents on the tricky roads proved costly in terms of time and ultimately ended the team’s chances of victory.
Elfyn Evans produced one of his strongest performances of the season to fight for the victory down to the final day, which he began only four seconds from the lead ahead of a long loop of five stages totalling 69.82 kilometres. In the day’s first stage he reduced that gap to just 0.6s with a fourth stage win of the weekend for himself and co-driver Scott Martin. However, in the next test they had to stop and change a wheel and tyre after running wide in a downhill right-hander, dropping them to fourth overall.
This misfortune for Evans did promote Takamoto Katsuta into third position on his home rally in his TGR WRT Next Generation entry. Heavy rain hit for the final two stages of the event but Katsuta safely made it through the treacherous conditions to clinch a special podium finish, his second of the season together with co-driver Aaron Johnston.
Sébastien Ogier showed excellent speed all weekend with his new co-driver Vincent Landais, and may have won had the pair not dropped 2m44s in Friday’s first stage where they had to stop and replace a tyre. Fastest of all through both Saturday and Sunday’s legs, Ogier fought back from last position to finish fourth overall ahead of Evans, only 2m24s from the winner and taking five stage wins along the way.
After a record-breaking season where he became the youngest ever WRC champion, Kalle Rovanperä was also in the fight for victory until Saturday morning when he slid wide in one corner and made contact with a wall, forcing he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen to also stop and change a wheel.
After losing significant time, they treated the rest of the rally as a valuable opportunity to test different car setups for the event’s unique characteristics.
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