Villagra wins duel with Raikkonen at Rally Japan Munchi's Ford World Rally Team driver Federico Villagra enjoyed a close fought battle with former Formula One Champion Kimi Raikkonen throughout Rally Japan, before taking advantage of the...
Villagra wins duel with Raikkonen at Rally Japan
Munchi's Ford World Rally Team driver Federico Villagra enjoyed a close fought battle with former Formula One Champion Kimi Raikkonen throughout Rally Japan, before taking advantage of the Finn crashing out of the event and using his experience to secure eighth place overall.
The Sapporo-based event marked the return of Villagra and co-driver Jorge Perez Companc to the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time since Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Since his last WRC event, the seven-time Argentinean Rally Champion has been busy competing in his home championship, but with three months away from the wheel of a Ford Focus RS WRC it was unclear how the driver would fare in the land of the rising sun.
However, Villagra quickly adapted back to driving his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and the Argentinean was ninth after the event's opening five stages -- only 27.7 seconds behind Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson. This was followed by a trouble-free afternoon and the Munchi's driver pulled into Friday's final service 16.6 seconds ahead of Raikkonen, who rounded out the top ten.
The second day of Rally Japan saw the Munchi's crew tackle a repeat loop of 60.99 km followed by two laps of the 1.57 km Super Special Stage at Sapporo Dome. Villagra moved up into eighth position after Wilson's misfortune in SS11 when the fellow Ford Focus RS WRC driver ended up stuck in a ditch. During SS13, however, the Argentinean reported inaccuracies with his pacenotes which led him to overshoot on two corners, knocking him back into ninth position.
Villagra completed the second pass of the 33.76km Kamuycep stage 24.9 seconds behind Raikkonen, extending the gap between the two drivers even further. Raikkonen continued to produce a series of quick stages times throughout the remainder of Saturday afternoon and as the WRC drivers pulled into Saturday's final service, Villagra was 40.8 seconds adrift of his Finnish rival.
The final day of Rally Japan consisted of eight short stages covering 55.68km and close battle between Villagra and Raikkonen for eighth position was expected. However, during the day's opening 4.71 km stage the tussle between the two drivers was short-lived as the Citroen Junior driver crashed and Villagra was moved back up to eighth position with only seven short stages remaining.
Villagra and Companc encountered no major problems during the rally's closing stages and the duo pulled into the final service at Tsukisamu Dome eighth overall -- one position ahead of the duo's previous result at 2008's Rally Japan when they finished ninth.
Despite Villagra dropping a position to Henning Solberg in the Drivers' Championship Standings the Argentinean is only one point behind the Norwegian, and has now extended his lead over Raikkonen to nine points.
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
"It didn't take me long to get used to driving the [Ford] Focus again -- although it definitely didn't help that Thursday's Shakedown was on Tarmac. That made no sense to me. Yesterday's long stage [SS12] lost us a lot of time and that was the main problem for us this weekend -- there were some issues with my notes and I lost my confidence. On the stage's second pass [SS15], I took it very slow and that's when Kimi [Raikkonen] really started to pull away. Everything else has been OK for us and obviously Kimi had his crash today so we moved up the leaderboard. I never like to win a battle in that way though -- it should always be the fastest driver that deserves to win but sometimes it doesn't work out like that, especially when the poor road conditions made for difficult driving this weekend."