By Gareth James
Elfyn Evans paid tribute to his team after the Welsh driver secured runners-up spot in the World Rally Championship following victory at Rally Japan.
Evans clinched his eighth career win by finishing a dominant 1min 17.7sec ahead of team-mate Sébastien Ogier at this final round of the season.
It was enough to confirm his place as the runner-up driver in the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship for the third time.
“It was not easy with the conditions we had this week, even though we had a massive gap already after Friday night,” Evans said.
“A massive thanks to the team, the car’s been great and a 1-2-3 for Toyota is a fantastic result.”
— Ralïo+ (@RalioS4C) November 19, 2023
Evans laid the foundations for glory early in the asphalt fixture when he charged to a near-two-minute advantage in Friday’s rain-soaked opening leg.
From then on, he was able to control the rally by adapting his risk level to suit the ever-changing conditions.
Kalle Rovanperä’s capture of the final podium spot capped off a perfect season for Toyota, which has heralded titles for Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen, as well as a third successive manufacturers’ championship victory.
Ogier, who has undertaken a part-time programme in 2023, damaged his GR Yaris car’s chassis when he slid into a barrier on Saturday.
The required repairs meant he exceeded his allocated service time, collecting a one-minute time penalty which ultimately prevented him from threatening Evans’ advantage.
— DirtFish (@DirtFishRally) November 19, 2023
He finished 28.8sec ahead of Rovanperä while Esapekka Lappi, driving a Hyundai i20 Rally1, held off Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta to claim fourth by 20.0sec.
Home hero Katsuta won nine of the rally’s 21 stages but ended just over three minutes adrift of victor Evans due to an incident on Friday morning.
Without that misdemeanour, the 30-year-old could well have celebrated his maiden victory.
Final FIA World Rally Championship standings (provisional, after Rally Japan)
1. Kalle Rovanpera (Finland) Toyota, 250 points
2. Elfyn Evans (Great Britain) Toyota, 216 points
3. Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai, 189 points
4. Ott Tanak (Estonia) Hyundai, 174 points
5. Sebastien Ogier (France) Toyota, 133 points
— Elfyn Evans (@ElfynEvans) November 19, 2023