A tense daylong battle between overnight leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) ended pretty much as it started with the Norwegian 32.3sec ahead. Although the time gap between the pair differed by only 2.2sec from last...
A tense daylong battle between overnight leader Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) ended pretty much as it started with the Norwegian 32.3sec ahead. Although the time gap between the pair differed by only 2.2sec from last night, it did not tell the story of the day. Gronholm was fastest on four of the first six stages to reduce the deficit from 34.5sec to just 20.0sec. However, Solberg hit back this afternoon to win four tests to widen the gap as Gronholm struggled with transmission troubles. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), second after leg one, refused to be drawn into the battle. The Frenchman tested a new tyre that was unsuited to the wet conditions this morning and concentrated on preserving the podium place that would give him a second world title tomorrow. Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) moved ahead of Chris Atkinson (Subaru) into fourth on the third stage but clipped a tree and broke his lights on the penultimate test to drop back to fifth. Team-mate Gigi Galli profited to climb into fourth. Atkinson fell behind Francois Duval (Citroen) into seventh this afternoon but snatched sixth back on the penultimate stage.
Leg two comprised 12 stages and 100.98 competitive kilometres. The Leg was run through forests and farmland to the northeast of Obihiro with another run through the Satsunai spectator arena on the outskirts of the host town.
The morning started overcast and humid with light drizzle. Localised heavy rain affected the morning stages and temperatures ranged from 9C to 15C.
After the twelve stages that made up Rally Japan's second leg, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen returned to this evening's service park in Kita Aikoku in 3rd place. The Xsara of Francois Duval and Sven Smeets continues to figure in 7th spot, the position they held this morning.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: It didn't take Sebastien Loeb long to see that it would be difficult to fend off Marcus Gronholm. Pushing as hard as he could in Emina (SS11), the Citroen driver saw his Finnish rival close quickly from behind: "In fact my tyre choice wasn't as good as it might have been in the conditions. As soon as I saw that despite pushing hard it would be difficult to match the pace of Marcus, I decided not to risk making a mistake." In the early part of Leg 2, Sebastien saw that the stages had been cut up by the first pass. "The ruts were up to 30cm deep and the stages weren't much fun. Consciously or otherwise, my mind was made up to defend 3rd place. Marcus was too quick and, to make up the 25s gap he had pulled out would have meant taking too many risks. In our current situation, it would be foolish to make a mistake..."
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: At the lunch-time break, Francois Duval was pleased with his morning: "The going was very tricky, with a lot of deep ruts which it was best to stay in. Despite my lack of experience with the Xsara in such greasy conditions, I felt confident with the car and I made a good tyre choice. It's been a good start to the day..;" The second part of Francois's day went just as well as the first. In the fight that is raging in the chasing pack, the young Belgian momentarily passed Chris Atkinson into 6th place (SS18 & 19) but then fell back behind the Australian driver. "I was a bit too cautious in the very delicate Menan stage which was run in the dark, especially as my headlights were set a little too high. I feel comfortable, I'm driving at a good pace and there are four of us grouped within just 13 seconds. It could be interesting tomorrow..."
The Subaru World Rally Team had a successful day as Petter Solberg continued to lead Rally Japan. The Norwegian collected five stage wins during the Leg and pulled further ahead of the chasing pack. Petter will start Sunday's final day of competition with a 30 second advantage over his closest rival, Marcus Gronholm. Despite some extremely tricky road conditions, Chris Atkinson also had an excellent day locked in an intense battle for fifth place with some very experienced competitors. Chris will start the final Leg just 10 seconds behind fifth-placed Harri Rovanpera.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: It feels good, we're on target but there's still a long way to go. I've pushed to the maximum today, perhaps a little too much in the morning but my tyre choice was too hard and I had no option. We gave away a lot of seconds for free on the first group of stages but the afternoon was much better. It's not easy out there, the stages have been terrible. My biggest fight today was not with Marcus, it was with the roads. It's been a long time since I won a rally and it's a feeling I want back. I'm sure Marcus will attack very hard tomorrow, but I want this win very much indeed.
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: Although we dropped from fourth to sixth it was still a good day. We are only 10 seconds behind fourth place and very much in contention to achieve our aim for the weekend of a solid result in the points. This morning's stages were very tough with the roads pretty rough but the changes we made in the midday service improved the set up for this afternoon's run. Throughout the day we continued to play it safe to make sure we got through okay, we sacrificed a little time in the process but we're still in the game. With it being so close for a spot in the top five it is going to be an interesting battle tomorrow on roads that we know well but our number one aim is make sure we get to the finish ramp.
Today's marathon second leg of the Rally Japan ended with BP-Ford World Rally Team continuing to hold eighth and ninth places. However, in contrast to the opening day, it is Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen who are eighth in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car with Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek one place and 16.7 seconds behind in a similar car.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "I did a lot of sliding in the wet and mud this morning but everything felt better than yesterday," said Gardemeister. "I had more confidence and I improved but it's the most difficult rally of the season so far. I had a lucky escape on the second corner of Menan this morning. It was extremely slippery and I was fortunate to stay on the road. On the same stage this afternoon I missed a junction and stalled the engine, losing a few seconds. It was hard to find good times this afternoon, although everything still felt good. I can't gain any places tomorrow unless those in front of me hit trouble. So I will work on improving the set-up and try to set some good stage times."
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "The roads were really, really rough this afternoon. I hit a small bridge with the bumper but apart from that we had no troubles. I tried hard but I didn't want to push too much in case I made a mistake. The stages were slower today but this morning's rain made them slippery," added Kresta.
After a flamboyant attack, Marcus Gronholm is up to second place on the Rally Japan. The Finn is gradually catching the leader Petter Solberg, to whom he closed to within 20 seconds half way through the day. Daniel Carlsson ends the leg in a solid 10th, after a trouble-free run. Marcus Gronholm, with a good tyre choice under him, was on a charge from the start, setting three fastest times and two second-fastest times. During the afternoon, an over-cautious tyre choice meant that he was less competitive, and Marcus gave back some of the time he had gained from Solberg in the morning.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "This afternoon was quite tricky for us. For the last three stages we had a problem with the differential, which meant that the handling of the car was quite difficult. Then on the road section towards the superspecial we heard a noise from the gearbox, which worried me. Luckily we were able to make it to the end with no problems but it has not been easy. Tomorrow I do not think we have a chance to catch Petter under normal circumstances so we just have to do our best and get to the finish, which has been our aim throughout the rally."
Daniel Carlsson/Mats Andersson: "I struggled to find a good feeling with the car today: I am not quite sure why as the set-up was no different to yesterday. In particular I didn't feel so confident over the stages with big ruts. I thought that I was braking too early on most of the corners but still I nearly went off a few times! But we're learning more with every stage, so tomorrow we will just aim for a safe finish."
Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team driver Armin Schwarz completed a solid second leg of Rally Japan, maintaining his overnight in 12th place over the day's 12 stages. Having retired from the event after rolling on yesterday's seventh stage, Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen visited the service park. Jarmo went to Obihiro hospital this morning where X-rays suggested that he had not sustained serious injuries despite being in some discomfort but doctors will monitor him over the next few days when he returns to Finland.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: My pace notes have been better today and the car has been fine. Unfortunately the roads have become very deeply rutted, especially on the stages that have now been used four times, and you can do nothing but follow the tracks.
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: I feel very sorry for what happened yesterday. If I'd taken the harder compound tyre that Michelin had suggested then I'd still be in the rally and fighting for championship points. I'm always very self-critical of my own performance so I hope I'll get another chance to drive the Fabia WRC 05 and redeem myself. We saw early on what it can do and I'm sure it is not so far away from a good result.
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team has enjoyed the most consistent and successful two days of the season during the opening two legs of Rally Japan, the team's home event and the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Both "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore and Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen have performed faultlessly and the Lancer WRC05 crews hold fourth and fifth positions respectfully going into the final leg. Gilles and Herve Panizzi have increased their confidence and maintain 13th position.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Today has been a good day, but losing the spot lamps was very frustrating", said Harri, who is celebrating his son's fifth birthday, long distance. "We had the fog and main lights, but this means nothing in the type of conditions we are talking about. In the open sections of the stage it was reasonably okay, but the minute you get under the trees and into the mud it is very difficult. But, overall we have to be very happy with the performance".
Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "We made some modifications to the shock absorbers at lunchtime and for me the feeling is the best of the weekend, so we won't be making any major changes", said Gilles. "The support for the rally along the road sections today has been amazing; at each set of red traffic lights I've been signing about 10-15 autographs!"
Gigi Galli/Guido d'Amore: "Today has been another very long day, tiring, but very satisfying at the end and I am happy", said Gigi. "To be honest I have never, ever, seen such tricky stages in my life. We had a similar problem to Harri with the lights, but still had two lamps working so it was slightly easier for us. This morning I didn't want to take more risks than necessary; the event is already difficult enough, there is no point risking more. Tomorrow we'll continue to push, but only at the pace I am comfortable".