The Toyota driver emerged as the class of the field in arguably the most challenging and dangerous conditions the crews have experienced this season.
Evans leapt from ninth after Thursday’s night’s super special to claim the lead from Neuville by 26.0s after winning the morning’s two stages. Organisers were forced to cancel the final stage of the loop on safety grounds with the adverse weather conditions preventing the medical helicopter from flying.
Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier ended the loop in third (+42.6s) ahead of WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen who produced a stunning drive to beat Rally1 machinery in his Rally2 Skoda.
World champion Kalle Rovnapera headed to service in fifth, 1m36.4s adrift with WRC2 runner Nikolay Gryazin sixth ahead of Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi and M-Sport’s Ott Tanak. Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux retired after crashes on stage two.
The forecasted heavy rain coupled with leaves and pine needles on the road surface created ice like conditions which meant the drivers had to proceed with caution.
There was drama from the outset on stage two (Isegami’s Tunnel, 23.67km) as Sordo locked up and swiped the trees forcing the Spaniard to retire on the same stage where his i20N went up in flames 12 months ago. Both driver and co-driver Candido Carrera were unharmed in the incident.
Moments before Toyota’s Katsuta went off the road at the same location after initially setting the fastest time on the first splits. The local favourite was able to reach the stage end but lost more than two minutes due to a damaged radiator which required repairs on the following road section.
M-Sport’s Fourmaux was not so lucky as he also went off the road at the same point triggering organisers to fly the red flags.
Prior to the drama, the pace had been set by Evans, who produced a blistering effort from second on the road, to post a time 32.3s faster than Rovanpera, who faced the dirtiest of the road conditions.
Evans took the stage win by 4.0s from Toyota team-mate Ogier while Neuville was third quickest, 20.8s in arrears.
“It’s horrific. I felt so slow in so many places but then also on the edge in others. It is impossible to judge,” said Evans.
Equally as impressive was Mikkelsen as the Norwegian posted the fourth fastest time, beating Rally1 drivers Rovnapera, Tanak, Lappi and Katsuta.
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
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