Puuppola, Finland,

Rally Japan: Day 1


Spectacular home stadium start for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team has begun its home event at Rally Japan in spectacular style on a brand-new super special stage inside the Toyota Stadium.

The action at the final round of the 2023 season began with pre-event shakedown on Thursday morning at Kuragaike Park, which gave a chance for the teams and drivers to refine car settings before the start. After three runs each, the four GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID drivers all placed inside the top five in the shakedown times, with Elfyn Evans in second place ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä.

While the Toyota Stadium was already the venue for the start of the rally last year, this was the first time a stage had been held inside, on a specially-constructed 2.1-kilometre side-by-side circuit. On his home event, Katsuta was fifth-fastest in his TGR WRC Challenge Program-supported entry. He was followed by Rovanperä in sixth with Ogier eighth and Evans ninth, all within five seconds of the lead.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal) 
“It is a great honour for us to be back here at Rally Japan and in Toyota City. We have already seen that the fans here in Japan are incredible, and their commitment and support is unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s also fantastic to have this new super special stage within the Toyota Stadium, with an amazing atmosphere. This year we really want to win this event, and we have been doing careful work in preparation. However, it looks like the weather tomorrow might make for really difficult conditions on the stages with a lot of rain forecast. This will require patience from the drivers and a lot of things can happen, so it looks like this will once again be a challenging rally.”

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69) 
“It is cool to be here in Japan like always. All the fans are already really excited, it’s a home rally for the team and we are going to be pushing hard for the best result. The Toyota Stadium stage is quite nice, not easy for us as drivers but it’s a good show for the fans. We tried to do our best, but it was quite tricky for us so I think we need to find something for when we drive the stage again later in the weekend. In shakedown we had a good feeling on the first runs and we also did some bigger setup changes to try to get a bit of feeling ready for the wet conditions we are expecting tomorrow.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33) 
“This is a massively important rally for the team and it’s a privilege to be here in Japan as a TGR driver and receiving such a warm welcome. Of course, we want to pay that back with a good result and we’ll be doing everything we can to achieve that. There was a great atmosphere in the stadium tonight and although stages like these are perhaps not the most exciting from a driving point of view, it’s a nice way to get the rally underway. I didn’t have the best run but there’s a big day to come tomorrow. We expect very difficult weather so that’s going to be really challenging, especially with the stages being so narrow and technical.”

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17) 
“I think stadium stages like these are always great. For us as a driver it’s not necessarily the most enjoyable section of the rally but for the fans it’s great and the atmosphere is nice also. It was not so nice to lose a few seconds already, but that’s the way it is. We have already seen a lot of fans, a lot of support and there is a lot of expectation upon us this weekend, so we need to deliver our best. We had nice weather in the shakedown but we expect a very challenging start of the rally with a lot of rain tomorrow morning. Hopefully we are prepared for that and we are going to give our best.”

End of day one (Thursday): 

1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) 1m47.6s
2 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +0.7s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +1.4s
4 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +1.8s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +3.1s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +4.0s
7 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +4.5s
8 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +4.7s
9 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +4.9s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +5.3s
(Results as of 20:00 on Thursday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)

What's next? 
Friday is the longest day of the rally at 133.26 competitive kilometres and includes a familiar trio of stages north-east of Toyota City to be run twice either side of mid-day service. Among these is Isegami's Tunnel, the longest stage of the weekend at 23.67 km. The second of three runs of the Toyota Stadium super special rounds out the day.


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