Neuville had closed to within 10.5s of Evans heading into stage six but his rally came to a premature halt 100 metres into the stage.
The Belgian lost control of his i20N which found the trees causing terminal damage to the front of his car. Last year’s Rally Japan winners Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were unharmed in the incident. The crash has handed Evans a 44.4s lead over Ogier.
Neuville’s accident is the latest from an eventful Friday thanks to severe wet conditions that created an incredibly slippery road surface, made even worse by a layer of leaves and pine needles on the asphalt stages.
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo, M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta were all caught out in stage two and the same spot. Sordo and Fourmaux found the trees before coming to rest next to each other, both crews escaped unscathed.
Katsuta also made contact with the trees, damaging the radiator on his GR Yaris, but the local favourite was able to limp through the stages.
The conditions worsened for Rally1 crews on the following stage with all drivers suffering from misted-up windscreens, which severely restricted visibility. The matter was best described by Neuville.
“The conditions are really, really dangerous. We shouldn’t be driving in them. I have done a lot of rallies but I’ve never been as scared as this morning,” said Neuville at the end of stage three.
Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport
Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team, Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team
Organisers elected to cancel stage four on safety grounds, a move that Neuville was quick to praise.
“It is impossible to explain,” said Neuville when asked to explain the conditions he faced at midday service.
“You are going as slow as hell but you are still having plenty of surprises and moments. It is unpredictable and it makes it really dangerous.
“I think we have to highlight that the decision has been taken really quickly and the only decision was to cancel the stage.
“I’m really happy for that decision and I’m looking forward to this afternoon. We know the conditions are going to be more stable, but it is still going to be challenging but at least we will be able to control the car most of the time.”
Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier welcomed the decision but felt organisers should have cancelled the entire Friday morning loop.
“Of course, it was not fun being in the car this…