WRC

Rally Japan: Michelin final summary

2005 World Rally Champion* Two in a row-- After claiming his first WRC Drivers' crown in 2004, Sebastien Loeb has made it two in a row by wrapping up the 2005 title today in Japan! A score of eleven podium finishes on four continents in...

2005 World Rally Champion*

Two in a row--

After claiming his first WRC Drivers' crown in 2004, Sebastien Loeb has made it two in a row by wrapping up the 2005 title today in Japan!

A score of eleven podium finishes on four continents in 2005 - including eight outright wins - has confirmed the Frenchman as one of motorsport'sall-time greats, all disciplines included.

Michelin's 125,000 staff across the world are particularly proud and honoured to be associated with such a talented driver as Sebastien Loeb.

* subject to confirmation of the official results by the FIA

The eleventh podium of the year for Sebastien Loeb (Citroen-Michelin) hands him the 2005 Drivers' world title

By finishing on the podium of this weekend's Rally Japan,Sebastien Loeb has successfully secured his second consecutive Drivers' world crown . The championship's thirteenth round was ultimately won byMarcus Gronholm (Peugeot) following the last day elimination of the long-time leader Petter Solberg (Subaru), but Citroen- Michelin continues to top the Manufacturers' points table with a lead of 22 points over its closest rival Peugeot.

To begin with, its stages are narrow yet extremely fast, making mistakes particularly ill- advised. Meanwhile, the surface is frequently covered with a thick layer of loose gravel, while in other places it proved rougher and muddier this year than expected. The weather also turned out to be much cooler and more overcast than forecast prior to the start and, last but by no means least, the fixture's format includes an opening legwhich accounts for nearly half the event's total competitive distance, including two attempts at a stage exceeding 50km in length, making it one of the longest in world class rallying today.

Friday's action saw Petter Solberg (Subaru) quick off the mark, not so much in the long stage but more in the shorter tests (SS1 & 4) where Sebastien Loeb - as first driver on the road - was especially handicapped by the thick top-coating of gravel. The lines left in the Frenchman's wake were naturally beneficial toSolberg, who was running just behind the Citroen driver, and the Norwegian lost no time pulling out an early advantage at the top of the provisional leaderboard. Despite Loeb's quickest time on the second pass through the very long stage (SS7), Solberg completed the opening day with the handy cushion of more than 22 seconds over Loeb and practically half a minute over Gronholm (Peugeot).

A poor tyre choice for Saturday morning's damp conditions sawLoeb squeezed out of 2nd spot by Marcus Gronholm who put in a determined charge during the early part of Leg 2. "Our tests with the tyre I chose for today's opening loop were pretty conclusive, but it didn't work all that well here this morning," conceded Loeb at Saturday's lunchtime service halt. "When I saw that I was unable to match Gronholm 's times, I preferred to lift and concentrate on finishing 3rd which would clinch me the Drivers' title."

Gronholm succeeded in closing to within 20s of Solberg but was then slowed by a differential problem which gave Solberg a chance to pull clear again during the afternoon. By Saturday evening, it looked very much as though the top three of the 2005 Rally Japan was set in concrete: Solberg, Gronholm and Loeb, barring any last minute upsets, of course--

And the old adage of it never being over until the finish line is crossed effectively proved true once again today when Petter Solberg clouted a rock and broke a steering rod on the weekend's penultimate stage (SS25). His Subaru wasn't going anywhere after that and the incident handed victory to Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm on a plate.

Meanwhile, the scrap for 4th, and later 3rd place turned out to be a genuine nail-biter between Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi), Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), Francois Duval (Citroen -Michelin) and Chris Atkinson (Subaru), although the otherwise on-form Mitsubishi Lancers both fell back on the final morning when Gigi Galli went off and broke his suspension and his team-mate was forced to slow shortly afterwards following mechanical damage sustained in another off. After emerging as the early overall rally leader on Day 1, Chris Atkinson finally came out of this battle on top to claim a place on the podium alongside Gronholm and Loeb despite pressure from Belgium's Francois Duval ( 4th, Citroen -Michelin). The performance of the newly- crowned World Champion's team -mate harvested five extra manufacturers' championship points for Citroen which now enjoys a lead of 22 points over its most pressing rival Peugeot, while the next two rounds take place on asphalt, a surface on which the Michelin-shod Xsara has so far gone unbeaten this year.

The Japanese weekend turned out to be particularly difficult for the Ford-Michelin and Skoda-Michelin teams. The event was new to both Ford's driversToni Gardemeister et Roman Kresta, as well as to Skoda'sArmin Schwarz. The other driver nominated by the Czech team as eligible to score points, Mikko Hirvonen, had taken part in the 2004 Rally Japan but, after a promising early showing, he rolled out of the event on SS7.

-michelin-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Chris Atkinson , Gigi Galli
Teams Citroën World Rally Team