TOKYO (AFP): Spanish driver Dani Sordo and his co-driver escaped unhurt but were forced to retire from Rally Japan after their car was destroyed by a dramatic mid-race fire on Friday.
Sordo said he smelled petrol and saw fire “coming between the seats” of he and Candido Carrera’s Hyundai as they tackled the second stage of the race along a woodland road.
Sordo stopped the car and they jumped out and tried to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers, but it soon engulfed the vehicle and left them with no choice but to abandon it.
“After a few minutes it started to burn, it was coming from the rear and we tried to put it out, but it was absolutely impossible,” said the driver, who has finished on the podium three times this season.
“I’m sorry for the team — to lose a car like this, it’s a bad day.”
The stage was consequently red-flagged and the next section was cancelled.
Britain’s Elfyn Evans took the overall lead at the end of the second day.
Evans won two of the day’s stages and was three seconds ahead of Belgium’s Thierry Neuville.
Finland’s newly crowned world champion Kalle Rovanpera was 5.1sec off the lead in third place.
“This one was pretty OK with the grip,” Rovanpera said, after the second of his two stage wins for the day.
“On the wide parts it’s not easy and we have been struggling with understeer the whole day, so I didn’t have full confidence.”
Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, who won Thursday’s opening stage, was forced to change a deflated tyre on the second stage and ended the day 2min, 49.8sec off the pace.
“Our race is already over,” said Ogier.
Ireland’s Craig Breen retired after crashing into a barrier on the second stage.
The final stage of the day was cancelled because of damage to the course caused by Breen’s crash.