Saturday wrap: Thriller in Japan heads to the wire Could Rally Japan get any more exciting? Absolutely not. The tens of thousands of fans on the stages south of Sapporo have been treated to one of the most entertaining days in the sport's ...
Saturday wrap: Thriller in Japan heads to the wire
Could Rally Japan get any more exciting? Absolutely not. The tens of thousands of fans on the stages south of Sapporo have been treated to one of the most entertaining days in the sport's history.
And it's Petter Solberg who emerged as the day two hero - with a 3.7-second lead over Ford's Mikko Hirvonen.
Solberg's dreams of victory were hit by a jump-start penalty on the final stage before lunch, but in typical swashbuckling Solberg style, he refused to let the addition of 10 seconds to his total time dampen his spirits. Arriving at the start of the Kina stage close to the beautiful Lake Shikotsuko, Solberg was in belligerent mood.
"I don't care about that [time penalty]," he said. "I can't change it, so I'll just have to keep pushing and go flat out."
The other thing Solberg couldn't change was his place on the road for the final day; running first today, he would be the first to finish the stages and, therefore, at the mercy of those behind him. Again, Solberg was unconcerned. "What can I do?" he asked.
He could do just what he'd done through day one: set fastest times. And he did. He won two of the gravel stages to muscle his way back to the front. "I'm driving as fast as I can," said Solberg, after re-taking the top spot from Jari-Matti Latvala in the Kina test. The ebullient Norwegian might still look exhausted from the flu which has plagued him since he arrived in the Far East, but he's sounding more and more like the superstar the sport knows and loves.
Good as their word, Ford refused to partake in a tactical approach to the afternoon, although looking at Latvala's time loss through Kina you might have wondered. One glimpse of the frustration etched into Jari-Matti's face told its own story.
Five kilometres from the end of SS15, the front-right driveshaft on Latvala's Ford was damaged. The boot on the driveshaft had split allowing the lubricant for the shaft out and gravel and dirt in. The Focus was forced into three-wheel drive for the last five kilometres of the Kamuycep stage and all of Kina and the two Sapporo Dome superspecials.
"I didn't hit anything," said Latvala. "I don't know what caused the problem. It's made the car quite difficult on slow left-hand corners, the car's not pulling very well out of them and in the right-handers it feels like a rear-wheel drive car with lots of oversteer. Once we get the speed up and we're in the quicker sections it's not so bad. I knew the superspecial would be tough, with so many slow corners - we had to be careful in there."
In the end, Latvala dropped to fifth as he limped through the spectator stage. Hirvonen, however, remains in the thick of the fight for the win. He's second, despite a spin on the day's opening stage. Hirvonen is equidistant between Solberg ahead and Sebastien Ogier behind.
Ogier has, once again, driven a fantastic event - particularly for somebody on their first visit to these parts. Ogier's team-mate Sebastien Loeb remained sixth at the end of day two. The six-time champion had pushed hard and tried to make inroads, but on stages he's not confident in, he was unwilling to risk all and elected to settle for points and any crumbs which might come his way on what's certain to be an absolute thriller of a final day.