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Thu 10 Nov 2022

Neuville and Evans share Japan lead after shortened Friday morning

Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans share identical times atop the FORUM8 Rally Japan leaderboard after Friday's shortened opening loop which took its toll on several frontrunning crews.

The all-new asphalt event is already living up to its billing as one of the trickiest rounds of the season and Dani Sordo - three times a podium finisher this year - will go no further after his Hyundai i20 N set ablaze in the day’s opener. 

Sordo and co-driver Cándido Carrera emerged unscathed but the stage was subsequently red flagged. The next test - Inabu Dam - also had to be cancelled owing to the delays caused by the incident. 

Hyundai i20 N star Neuville was second to Kalle Rovanperä at Isegami’s Tunnel but dethroned the Finn on Shitara Town. He looked set to lead the way by mid-leg service until Evans, driving a Toyota GR Yaris, outpaced the entire field by 4.3sec to make the honours even. Ironically, the pair also posted identical times on Thursday’s shakedown. 

Rovanperä made it two Toyotas inside the leading trio - ending just seven-tenths further back. All three drivers complained of understeer on the twisty and technical speed tests. 

"I struggled a bit,” Neuville said. “The visibility is so bad with the sun and the trees and I have no confidence in the front of the car with lots of grip changes. It’s very tough but we are here."

Evans shared similar sentiments after the final test, adding: "It's a nice stage in a way, but it's also not easy and it didn't feel very nice in the car."

Ott Tänak - starting his final event for Hyundai - trailed the frontrunners by 9.7sec after complaining of a transmission issue. Six seconds behind him was Takamoto Katsuta, who also struggled with understeer on his Yaris.

Gus Greensmith dropped over a minute in SS4 while nursing a broken driveshaft on his Puma. The Briton did, however, fare better than his M-Sport Ford colleague Craig Breen, who crashed into a barrier on the very same stage. 

Also in trouble was overnight leader Sébastien Ogier. He stopped to change a deflated tyre in the opening stage and languishes 2min 41.5sec back from the lead. 

  • Full coverage from FORUM8 Rally Japan is available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.