WRC reaches its climax with Forum8 Ralky Japan

WRC reaches its climax with Forum8 Ralky Japan

The 2023 FIA World Rally Championship reaches its climax in Japan next week with a challenging Tarmac finale in store for the WRC stars and their Rally1 Hybrid cars.


After 12 action-packed rounds, Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen might be out of reach in the race to win the Drivers’ and Co-drivers’ titles respectively, but the chase to finish runner-up is very much alive.


Ahead of Forum8 Rally Japan, which hosts the WRC for the eighth time from November 16-19, Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin hold second position in the provisional standings for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT. However, after winning last month’s Central European Rally, which also used asphalt-only stages, Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe are just seven points adrift for Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team. 


Neuville and Wydaeghe were the winners when the WRC returned to Japan last season following a 12-year break. But Evans and Martin led for much of the opening two legs before dropping back due to having to change a wheel. It all points to an exciting battle for the coveted vice-champion honours.


M-Sport World Rally Team pair Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja are still in mathematical contention to finish second in the WRC but would need Evans/Martin to not score in Japan and for Neuville/Wydaeghe to add no more than six points to their current total.


The 2023 WRC season, the second using hybrid technology and fossil-free fuel, has so far delivered five different winners, while all three manufacturers – Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Toyota – have celebrated victories. This highlights the wide-open competition being delivered by the Rally1 regulations.


Toyota put the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers beyond their rivals’ reach on Rally Chile at the start of October and it’s fitting that the season closes in Japan and on an event based in Toyota City.


Pirelli, the WRC’s official tyre partner, will supply its PZero RA WRC hard and soft-compound tyres for Formu8 Rally Japan as well as its Cinturato RWB tyre in the event of wet weather. The hard compound is the first choice for warm and dry weather, while the soft compound is for cool and damp conditions, which are expected during the early morning mountain stages. A maximum of 28 tyres can be used for the event including four for Shakedown.


Prior to the rally, a launch event organised by the Forum8 Rally Japan 2023 Commission will be held in Tokyo on Friday, November 10 and will bring together key representatives of the Japanese government and national authorities from the transport, tourism and energy sectors, event organisation, manufacturer teams, WRC Promoter and the FIA. Saturday will be dedicated to activities featuring some of the WRC drivers for Tokyo-based media and fans.

THE ROUTE IN SHORT

Once a gravel event on the island of Hokkaido in the north of Japan, the country’s return to the WRC in 2022 for the first time since 2010 featured an asphalt-only itinerary on the main island of Honshu. 


Using tight and twisty stages in and around Toyota City in the Aichi prefecture, 40 kilometres from Nagoya, several changes have been made to the route ahead of the 2023 edition. The most notable is the addition of a superspecial stage purpose-built within the Toyota Stadium, which also houses the event service park. The stadium usually hosts football and rugby matches but it will be transformed into spectacular two-at-a-time 2.10-kilometre WRC stage with action taking place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 


Leg one proper begins with the iconic Iegami’s Tunnel stage, the rally’s longest at 23.67 kilometres, on Friday and includes a further two stages before service at the Toyota Stadium. The morning’s trio of stages are repeated in the afternoon prior to the rerun of the stadium superspecial. 


Saturday’s route takes in two full-length stages ahead of two passes of the Okazaki City superspecial, which uses an all-new route through a large park area. After a Tyre Fitting Zone in Okazaki Central Park, the early-morning Nukata Forest and Lake Mikawako stages are repeated followed by the Shinshiro City stage and a third run through Toyota Stadium SSS. 


Sunday’s deciding leg begins with the first visit to Asahi Kougen, which will become the Wolf Power Stage when it’s repeated at 14:15 local time. The 22.92-kilometre Ena City test, which follows, includes a new starting location that runs adjacent to the Akechi Railway. A Tyre Fitting Zone in Nakatsugawa Park takes place after the Nenoue Kougen stage with the morning stages run for a second time in the afternoon.

FORUM8 RALLY JAPAN DATA

 
Stage distance: 304.12 km

Total distance: 958.95 km

Number of stages:  22


RALLY1 HYBRID CONTENDERS

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT: The Japanese make’s line-up is unchanged from the Central European Rally with multiple world champion Sébastien Ogier joining Elfyn Evans and double WRC title winner Kalle Rovanperä for the eighth time in 2023. Home hero Takamoto Katsuta will pilot a fourth Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid but won’t be eligible to chase manufacturer points.

Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team: Dani Sordo starts his first event on Tarmac since January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo in the third Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid. Esapekka Lappi makes his Rally Japan debut, an event won by team-mate Thierry Neuville in 2022.

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: Adrien Fourmaux is back at Rally1 level for the first time since RallyRACC – Costa Daurada in October 2022 for his maiden Rally Japan. The event marks the completion of Ott Tänak’s second stint as an M-Sport driver before his return to Hyundai for 2024. The Estonian finished runner-up in Japan 12 months ago.

SUPPORTING CATEGORIES

With the FIA WRC2 title provisionally his for 2023, Rally Japan will serve as a high-speed lap of honour for Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2). Team-mate Nikolay Gryazin and Finnish ex-Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen will be among the Norwegian’s opposition in a ten-car WRC2 entry.

The FIA WRC2 Challenger crown will be three-time European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s sole focus, while Alexander Villanueva can seal the FIA WRC Masters’ Cup in Japan. 

Canadian Jason Bailey will chase the win in the WRC3 and Masters Cup class in his Ford Fiesta Rally3. 


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