Estonian rally star Ott Tänak finished sixth in Japan on Sunday, in his last WRC race with M-Sport Ford. Toyota finished one-two-three in its home rally, while Tänak did not finish the season and his M-Sport stint on quite the high that he had been hoping for.
He did however take four points in the final power stage in a race won by Elfyn Evans (Wales, Toyota).
Finn Kalle Rovanperä had been confirmed 2023 driver's champion, his second title, at the previous race in Central Europe in October. He finished third in Japan, after Evans and veteran driver Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) in second place.
Rovanerä's compatriot Esapekka Lappi was fourth for Hyundai; local driver Takamoto Katsuta finished fifth for Toyota.
Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja rounded out the top six in the M-Sport Ford Puma.
The first full day of competition was marred by rain in Nagoya (stage four was abandoned altogether), while Tänak himself was dogged by mechanical issues with the car, finishing eighth by day's end. The rain had led to a fairly idiosyncratic leaderboard, which saw four second-tier WRC2 cars make the top 10.
On Saturday the weather played a role once more; Tänak was in the top three in five consecutive stages, though did not take a stage win. He had risen to fifth in the overall rankings going into the final day's events, however, and dropped one place on the Sunday.
Thus ended the 2023 season. Kalle Rovanperä as noted won his second title, with 250 points, 34 points ahead of teammate Elfyn Evans, the only person in with a chance of catching him ahead of the penultimate race in Central Europe.
Belgian Thierry Neuville finished third with 189 points for Hyundai; the man who will rejoin him at that team next year, Ott Tänak, finished fourth with 174 points from the season – a creditable position considering M-Sport as a team is less well-funded than the works Toyota and Hyundai teams (no other teams have competed at the top-tier level since Citroen pulled out several years ago).
Tänak also finished ahead of eight-time Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) and Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai).
Next season starts as per tradition in Monte Carlo, with that rally starting January 25. Tänak will be driving for Hyundai once again.
Tänak won the 2019 drivers' championship with Toyota.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Anders Nõmm