Evans put his Toyota GR Yaris into a 26.0s lead over Neuville after winning the morning’s two stages held in extreme wet conditions, but the Welshman came under pressure from Neuville in the afternoon.
Neuville’s charge came to a halt after a crash on stage six which helped push Evans into 50.9s lead over Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier.
Newly-crowned two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera inherited third following Neuville’s demise with the Finn 2m07.4s adrift.
Leading WRC2 runner Andreas Mikkelsen clung onto an impressive fourth (+2m56.3s) following his star performance across the morning stages. The top six was completed by WRC2 driver Nikolay Gryazin (+3m44.3s) and Esapekka Lappi, who took a cautious approach in the sole remaining Hyundai (+3m46.3s). M-Sport WRC2 driver Gregoire Munster held seventh (+3m46.9s).
M-Sport’s Ott Tanak battled electrical issues to sit eighth (+4m43.7s), ahead of the recovering Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta, who won all three afternoon stages after losing time to damaged radiator caused by crash on stage two.
The intense morning rain relented for the afternoon loop, but the roads remained wet and ready to catch out the drivers.
Katsuta put his crash in the first pass of Isegami’s Tunnel this morning behind him by winning the second run to kick off the afternoon.
Equipped with a repaired GR Yaris, the Japanese delivered on the impressive pace he showed before his accident to set the benchmark time, 3.3s faster than Neuville.
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
“We could have done it [this time] this morning as well. It’s a shame as we have the pace. I didn’t push too much and just managed the pace and still we had this time,” said Katsuta.
While Katsuta’s time was impressive, Neuville’s effort spiced up the battle for the rally lead as the Belgian took 15s out of rally leader Evans. The Hyundai driver declared the conditions “challenging but more straightforward“ than the morning as he reduced the deficit to 10.5s. Evans felt he didn’t use the full grip potential in the stage.
Evans’ team-mate Ogier clocked the third-fastest time despite colliding with a barrier at low speed towards the end of the test. The Frenchman dropped 16.2s but remained in third overall.
Rovanpera found the going much easier than morning pass, but the Finn reached the stage end 24.2s behind Katsuta.
Tanak also lost…