Ott Tänak tenth after Rally Japan opening stages

Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja in action in the wet in Japan.
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja in action in the wet in Japan. Source: M-Sport

Ott Tänak lay tenth after the first four stages proper at Rally Japan, the final race in the 2023 WRC season and his last for M-Sport Ford, in rainy conditions which saw a stage abandoned and a rather idiosyncratic leaderboard emerging.

Welshman Elfyn Evans (Toyota) was in the lead going into the maintenance break after stage four.

One of the shortest rallies of the season at 304 kilometers, on asphalt, the WRC driver's title had already been decided at last month's Central European Rally, with Finn Kalle Rovanperä winning his second championship for Toyota, having won his maiden title last season.

Tänak lies in fourth place for M-Sport Ford, with no chance of improving on that, though Evans, and last year's Rally Japan winner Thierry Neuville (Belgium, Hyundai) have second place to compete for.

With the time difference between Japan and Estonia, stage start times run mostly from midnight Estonian time, to midday.

Thursday's (Wednesday in Estonia) initial shakedown saw Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja finish ninth. "For some reason, the car is not handling at all right now," Tänak commented briefly.

The race is his final for M-Sport Ford, as he rejoins Hyndai next year; Tänak and M-Sport principal Richard Millener have been hoping to go out on a high.

Chances of that being met took a dent with severely wet conditions in Nagoya for the first full day of the event, which began just after midnight Estonian time, with the route quickly turning slippy and several drivers spinning off, including local driver Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota) and Hyundai's Dani Sordo.

Neuville won stage one, while Evans took stages two and three; stage three was particularly challenging for Tänak, who was battling with a misted-up windshield and finished nearly three minutes behind the leader.

These conditions also led to a very unusual situation at the end of the test, where seven of the 12 fastest crews were from the second-tier WRC2 series.

Stage four was in the event abandoned due to the poor conditions.

The table below shows the standings after the canceled stage four and the maintenance break; stage five is already under way at the time of writing, having started at just after 6.30 a.m. Estonian time, and will be followed by three more stages on Friday, the last ending around lunchtime in Estonia.

Rally Japan standings after stage four. Source: WRC

Eight stages follow on Saturday, between 1 a.m. and lunchtime, with six more on the Sunday, the last starting just after 7 a.m. on Sunday.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Anders Nõmm

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