WRC Season Finale: Rally Japan Preview
Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
All good things must eventually come to an end, and after 12 rounds of action since January, the final rally of the 2022 WRC season takes place this weekend, starting on November 10th and concluding on the 13th. This time, it’s a unique challenge facing the crews, as they head to Japan for the first time since 2010. Unlike the sports last visit there, the Land of the Rising Sun will be hosting an all-tarmac Rally for the first time, as opposed to gravel. The new stages completely level the playing field for all drivers competing, though this doesn’t mean there aren’t already some favourites for top honours.
Toyota had a clean sweep in October, Kalle Rovanperä becoming champion in New Zealand, and the team clinching the title in Catalunya three weeks later. But the man who scored the most points in that period was Sebastien Ogier, who finally got that elusive win in a Rally1 car in Spain. Ogier actually won the last instalment of this rally back in 2010, and hopes to do the same this year, although with five winners from six rallies, the statistics are not on his side. His teammate Rovanperä will be able to properly enjoy himself for the first time all year, although he would be looking to end on a high.
As for the other two Toyotas, it’s been a disappointing season for Elfyn Evans, and both himself and the team know it, so ending it with a win would be a nice consolation, and would help boost confidence for 2023. Takamoto Katsuta is hopeful of a good finish on his home rally, and ideally, a podium one at that.
This will be Ott Tänak’s last rally with Hyundai, in what has proven to be a good but ultimately underwhelming partnership, with just five wins to the Estonian’s name since joining the Korean manufacturer in 2020. His results won’t affect M-Sport’s ambitions of re-signing him for next year, otherwise Tänak might be facing a sabbatical from full-time rallying. Teammate Thierry Neuville is committed to the Korean outfit for the near future, and is best placed to break the Toyota monopoly, having been their only real threat after the first day in Spain.
Speaking of Spain, Dani Sordo will be looking to make an impression in Japan, and show he deserves a full-time drive next season. The Spaniard is a safe and experienced pair of hands, which is what Hyundai need more than anything else, in the absence of one of their star drivers.
Due to high costs, M-sport have decided to withdraw Adrien Fourmaux from Rally Japan, stating that he and the team will instead focus on preparation for the upcoming season. As a result, for the second time in three rallies, the British team will run just two cars eligible for manufacturers points, while Jourdan Serderidis will also take part as a privateer for the fourth time in 2022. While it has been a disappointing year for all their drivers, both Gus Greensmith and especially Craig Breen, who gets a new co-driver after Paul Nagle announced his retirement. That new co-driver is James Fulton and he will be hoping for a good debut, while Breen wants to end a rather miserable first full season on a high.
Along with all the usual suspects, some familiar names will compete this weekend. More notably, former McLaren F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen and Former works Subaru driver Toshihiro Arai. They will be going head-to-head in the WRC2, Kovalainen in a Skoda Fabia, and Arai in a Citroen C3.