While the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship titles have already been decided, there’s no shortage of anticipation leading into this week’s season finale at FORUM8 Rally Japan.
Thierry Neuville, whose Hyundai Motorsport squad has missed out on both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championship titles this year, would love nothing more than to rain on Toyota Gazoo Racing’s parade in the Japanese marque’s own backyard.
The Belgian driver was successful in doing so 12 months ago when the all-asphalt fixture made its welcome return to the WRC calendar. This time around he’s going head-to-head with GR Yaris Rally1 challenger Elfyn Evans for the runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship.
“We are going to Japan with the Tarmac mileage from Central European Rally and a win from last year. Hopefully we can continue our success and have another great experience out there.”said the i20 N Rally1 star, who trails Evans by seven points
Evans, whose crash at the previous round paved the way for team-mate Kalle Rovanperä to clinch his second world title, aims to secure the result he painfully missed out on last year. In 2022, a damaged wheel prevented the Welshman from delivering a home win for the GR Yaris Rally1.
“Rally Japan is going to be an important rally for myself and the team, and we obviously want to finish the season on a high. We were in contention for the win until quite late on last year and we would really like to put that right.”he admitted
Fellow Toyota man Takamoto Katsuta would send the huge home support into overdrive should he manage to improve on last year’s third-place finish. The 30-year-old and eight-time champion Sébastien Ogier complete a four-strong GR Yaris line-up.
Neuville is joined by Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo in a three-pronged i20 N Rally1 attack. He knows only too well that departing the season with another win would lay solid foundations for the new year – particularly as he lines up against soon-to-be team-mate Ott Tänak.
Tänak starts his final rally for M-Sport Ford before he heads for Hyundai in 2024. The British-based team has also entered a Puma Rally1 for Adrien Fourmaux to use on his top-level return, replacing fellow Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Up to 40,000 fans will be in attendance to witness the all-new rally-opening super special stage inside Toyota Stadium on Thursday evening. Crews face 22 demanding speed tests totalling 304.66km in the mountain regions of Aichi and Gifu before Sunday afternoon’s finish.