TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team has scored a dream 1-2-3 finish on home roads at Rally Japan to complete a season of success in style, Elfyn Evans claiming victory ahead of Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä.
The victory for Evans and co-driver Scott Martin is their third of the season and the ninth from 13 rallies this year for TGR-WRT, which had already sealed the manufacturers’ title on round 11 in Chile before Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen secured their second drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles on the penultimate event, the Central European Rally.
This was the WRC’s second visit to the technical and demanding asphalt roads in the mountains of the Aichi and Gifu prefectures around Toyota City. Heavy rain added significantly to the challenge for the first full day of stages on Friday, and this was where Evans built the foundations of his victory.
Two stage wins in the most extreme wet weather on Friday morning helped him to open up a lead of almost one minute and 50 seconds over his team-mates as their rivals hit trouble. Saturday and Sunday brought further changeable and slippery conditions, but Evans managed both days expertly to seal the win. In the process, he and Martin also became championship runners-up.
Ogier was close to Evans’ pace at the start but lost some ground after contact with a barrier on Friday afternoon, while Rovanperä faced some of the toughest conditions opening the road. They were split by less than 20s after Friday but both opted to focus on maximising the team’s result rather than their own positions in the tricky conditions.
Ogier and co-driver Vincent Landais finished 1m17.7s back as they took a fourth podium of their partial campaign following three wins earlier in the year, with Rovanperä a further 28.8s behind with the eighth podium and 12th top-four finish of his consistent title-winning season.
Evans said: "It’s really nice to be on the top step of the podium again and even more so when it’s a 1-2-3 for the team.
"It’s an amazing result and we could not have asked for a much better event at home for Toyota, so I’m really pleased. It’s been a long and difficult weekend.
"On Friday we had exceptionally tough conditions which we came out of with quite a margin.
"Since then it’s been a challenge in a different way, trying to manage the gap rather than push flat-out, but I’m very happy to get there in the end.
"Massive congratulations to the team: it’s been an incredible season, the car has been great and I’m really proud and happy for everyone.”