WRC

Rally Japan: Final summary

Petter Solberg (Subaru) paced himself through the final day to score his third win of the season. His winning margin over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), fastest on today's opening two stages, was 1min 13.3sec. Loeb can now seal the world title on the...

Petter Solberg (Subaru) paced himself through the final day to score his third win of the season. His winning margin over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), fastest on today's opening two stages, was 1min 13.3sec. Loeb can now seal the world title on the next rally. The only battle today concerned fourth place. Carlos Sainz (Citroen) started with a 11.6sec advantage over Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) but the Finn moved ahead on the third stage and claimed fourth by 13.1sec. Harri Rovanperä (Peugeot) climbed to sixth after Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) was delayed by gear selection troubles. Hirvonen failed to start the Satsunai super special stage and was thought to have retired. However, regulations relating only to super special stages allowed him to limp to the service park where a new gearbox was fitted and he took seventh. Privateer Ford Focus RS WRC driver Antony Warmbold took the final drivers' point.

84 starters left Obihiro parc ferme for the final time at 0530hrs this morning. Twenty-one of those had re-started having retired earlier in the event

The third and final Leg of Rally Japan comprised 111.94 competitive kilometres and a liaison distance of 293.49km. Crews contested a final seven stages (two groups of three, plus a final visit to the Super Special stage at Satsaui). Stages were located north west of the service park at Kita Aikoku

Temperatures started at 15°C degrees this morning, rising to 22°C degrees by midday. Skies remained clear and bright, while stages were dry, loose gravel

The championship returns to Europe later this month when the Welsh capital of Cardiff hosts the Rally GB on 16 - 19 September. The rally has moved forward two months so conditions in the south Wales forests should be drier and faster than usual.

Subaru

Subaru driver Petter Solberg claimed victory on Rally Japan today to take his third WRC win of the year and the eighth of his career. Dominating the event from the outset, the Norwegian and his co-driver Phil Mills, won by a margin of 1 minute 13.3 seconds to become the only crew to lead a WRC event from start to finish this year. Claiming a maximum ten points in both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships, Solberg moves to second in the overall Drivers' standings. Subaru's young driver, Mikko Hirvonen put in another solid performance and, despite encountering a gear selection problem, brought his Impreza home in seventh place to collect two Championship points. Competing in a WRC event for the first time on home soil, Subaru scored its 42nd WRC win and the 41st with the Impreza.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: It's an incredible feeling let me tell you! I'm so happy to have won here; It's such a special event for Subaru that to come here and win in Japan on the first attempt is almost like a dream come true. It couldn't be better! There are so many people I have to thank, at the team in the UK, at Subaru in Japan, and at Pirelli too, they all share this success and I'm so grateful. And to the spectators who came to watch us out in the stages, I hope you had a good time watching us, it's been a fantastic rally and I hope we can win it again next year!

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: Well I felt there were two good things about this rally - my performance on Saturday, and this morning when I managed to get the car fixed and going again! I've learned a lot about this event though, and things are still improving, but I need to find a way of building my confidence and trust earlier, so I can start putting in good times on Leg one, rather than later on. Apart from the gear selector problem, the car ran perfectly all weekend and the team did a great job. I also want to thank the supporters who turned out to welcome us, it's been a good experience and I'm looking forward to coming back next year.

Citroen

Rally Japan marks a new step in Citroën's history with the Far East. Seven decades after the memorable "Croisière Jaune", and twelve years after the "Paris-Pekin" win in the rally raids competition, the Chevrons scored a generous amount of points on Hokkaido island for both Championships. Team mates Loeb/Elena and Sainz/Marti led their Xsaras to second and fifth positions respectively on the first World event competed in the "land of rising sun". In the Drivers classification, Seb' has slightly increased his lead on his closest rival. He lies in front of the reigning World Champion by a thirty point margin, equalling three wins. Carlos Sainz, only four points behind the Norwegian maintains his position among the front-runners. Thanks to this excellent team result, Citroën scores twelve more points for the Manufacturers Championship and sits 35 points in front of the other competitors, five rounds before the end of the season.

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "Of course, I'm very happy. It's the third time we finished second this season and I think it's looking rather good for the coming rounds. As far as the rally is concerned, I liked the stages despite the fact they are very narrow. What's difficult is to switch from the very slow pace on the recce to the fast one of the rally. It's a good event which could be improved if the time spent on road sections was reduced"

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "It has been a very difficult event ! I've been looking for 100% confidence all weekend as it was needed on that kind of very fast terrain where there's no place for the slightest mistake. However, once more the team has achieved a fantastic result and I'm happy to be part of it."

Ford

Markko Märtin and Michael Park claimed BP-Ford World Rally Team's fourth consecutive podium place after finishing third on the Rally Japan today. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car never missed a beat during three days of tough driving on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and the result maintains Ford's grip on second in the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates François Duval and Philippe Droeven retired this morning after sliding off the road in their Focus RS when lying sixth. Duval's retirement ends a superbly consistent run which brought five consecutive points finishes.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: Märtin and Park re-started in a comfortable third in their Castrol-branded Focus RS, despite two days of struggling to come to terms with pace notes that were too optimistic for the roads. They cruised through the seven speed tests, setting fastest time on three of them, as the 28-year-old Estonian finally found notes that worked well. "At last our pace notes were perfect and today felt like a new rally for me," said Märtin. "We made a few corrections, but that's normal on a new rally. Ironically, I had my notes right but on the long stage this morning I couldn't hear them because of an intercom problem. We were still fastest though, so it wasn't too bad! The problem was that I'd had two days of not trusting the notes so I found it hard to put all my faith in them. Today the stages were quite technical, but really nice and flowing, and they were great to drive. I drove at 100 per cent but on the safe side of 100 per cent. It really didn't look good on Friday but we found some speed and when Marcus Grönholm had a problem we were able to move ahead and build on it. Certainly the last day was much easier than the first and I'm frustrated that the notes were so bad to start with. But third is a good result for us. The car has been fantastic and, apart from trying a few small suspension modifications on Friday, we've not had to do anything to it," he added.

Francios Duval / Philippe Droeven: "We came round a left bend leading into a third gear right," said Duval. "The pace notes said it was a long corner but it turned out to be a short one. I went into the bend too deep and tried to correct the line but the car slid off backwards down a steep bank. It was a small mistake. The car wasn't damaged but the bank was far too steep for us to get it back on the road. It's been a difficult weekend for both of us but we set some good stage times so I'm happy with that. It's a shame that we didn't complete all the stages because that would have helped with my pace notes for the future but I have gained good experience here. Philippe was a good choice as co-driver. It was his first time with me in a World Rally Car and it wasn't so easy for him," added Duval, whose regular partner, Stéphane Prévot, had to return to Belgium before the start for personal reasons.

Peugeot

Peugeot drivers Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera have finished fourth and sixth on the inaugural Rally Japan, scoring valuable points for themselves and Peugeot. Marcus started the day fifth, after dropping time with a gearbox problem and a tyre choice that was too hard yesterday. Today went much better, with the Finn enjoying the challenging flat-out stages and moving up to fourth. His 307 WRC was entirely reliable throughout the final leg. Harri was held back by gear selection problems on the opening day, which meant that he dropped more time by running as first factory car on the road during leg two. He struggled through the loose gravel, sweeping the road clean for the cars behind. On the final day he had the same handicap and also suffered from fading brakes. Nonetheless, he steered clear of trouble to score some well-deserved points.

Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "It's been a difficult rally, where we just had to take as many points as possible. On the first day we were on the same pace as the leaders, but unfortunately we dropped back with a few problems on day two. The final leg was quite exciting for me as we had a big battle for fourth place. Under the circumstances, we did the best we could."

Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietiläinen : "We were unlucky here, as myself and the car were good enough to get a top result. We've not really had a perfect run over any of the stages, but sometimes our sport is like that! I've enjoyed the event and the stages, but we were constantly fighting problems. Let's hope for better luck next time!"

Next Event - Rally Great Britain Sept 16

Round twelve of the sixteen event WRC 2004 FIA World Rally Championship starts in two weeks time, when crews move to the UK. Based in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, the gravel event has become famous for its muddy, gravel stages run through the forests of south Wales. Normally held in cold, wintry weather of November, this year's Wales Rally GB sees a calendar shift to September, when conditions should be warmer and more settled. Following a sprint round the Cardiff super special on Thursday 16 September, crews will start the event proper on Friday 17 September and contest a total of 394.04 competitive kilometres.

-fia/wrc-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team