Rally News

Katsuta leads as inspired Neuville impresses

Toyota not “expecting too many changes” to WRC technical rules for 2025

Toyota driver Katsuta, starting sixth on the road, produced a strong and consistent pace across Friday morning’s four stages to take a 2.9s lead over Neuville at the midday tyre fitting zone.

Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera managed to drive around an ill-handling Toyota to sit third, 3.3s adrift, ahead of Hyundai’s Ott Tanak [+4.1] and Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier [+7.5s], who also struggled for confidence behind the wheel.

Dani Sordo scored two stage wins to hold sixth [+9.1s] in front of M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux, title contender Elfyn Evans [+17.5s], Gregoire Munster [+1m26.5s} and WRC2 runner Oliver Solberg [+1m40.7s], who rounded out the top 10.

Crews were greeted by much damper conditions than expected for the day’s opening stage [Mortagua, 18.15km] which played into the hands of the earlier runners.

Road sweeper Neuville set the pace with a benchmark time that stood until Katsuta produced an impressive run to pip the Belgian by 1.2s, to win the stage, which came as a surprise to the Toyota driver.

“To be honest I felt a bad feeling in the car, so I didn’t expect it to be good. I need to change my style a bit and there were some surprises on the stage,” said Katsuta, who moved to second overall 0.8s behind overnight rally leader Neuville.

Tanak emerged with the third fastest time, 2.1s adrift and 0.9s slower than Neuville. The Estonian however wasn’t happy behind the wheel of his i20 N.

Photo by: Toyota Racing

“I struggle to work in the car, but I will try. It’s not a good time, we are losing. There is nothing positive,” said Tanak.

Evans also struggled for confidence with the front end of his Toyota on his way to reaching the stage end, 3.9s shy of the pace.

M-Sport’s Fourmaux, who gambled on taking only one spare, and rally favourite Rovanpera posted an identical time as they dropped 5.7s.

Ogier competing in his first gravel event since Acropolis last year, admitted “he was not really on it” as the Frenchman could only post the seventh-best time, ahead of Hyundai’s Sordo.

The stage was interrupted by rolls for WRC2 runners Pepe Lopez and Yuki Yamamoto.

The road-cleaning effect came into force on stage 3 [Lousa,12.28km] which was much drier and more technical than the previous test.

Sordo faced the best of the road conditions and, combined with an impressive drive, the Spaniard lit up the timing screens with a time 3.2s faster than Rovanpera, which was enough to win the…

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