And on to the Pacific rim... Round 11 of the 2006 World Rally Championship takes the sport's stars to Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido. For this event's narrow yet fast gravel stages, BFGoodrich's partner teams will be able to count on the...
And on to the Pacific rim...
Round 11 of the 2006 World Rally Championship takes the sport's stars to Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido. For this event's narrow yet fast gravel stages, BFGoodrich's partner teams will be able to count on the g-Force Gravel tyre which has won all five of the loose surface events that have been organised since the start of the year. And already, a BFGoodrich runner is sure to win the Drivers' title at the end of the tyre firm's maiden WRC campaign.
Far from the bustle of Japan's urban sprawl, the island of Hokkaido is a favourite destination for Tokyo's in-crowd looking to profit from wide open spaces. Here, at the northern tip of Japan, just opposite the eastern shores of Siberia, the main leisure activities from June to September are hiking and mountain biking, while skiing and snowboarding take over for the remainder of the year when snow up to four metres deep covers the country in its wintry cloak. Last winter saw temperatures dip as low as 36C!
That said, conditions should be significantly milder next weekend in the wooded hills around Obihiro, the town which hosts the eleventh round of the 2006 World Championship. Drivers readily compare the region's fast and narrow gravel stages with those of Rally Finland, but without the jumps and with less grip.
"Rally Japan is a difficult event to call," says BFGoodrich's Rallies Programme Manager Aime Chatard. "Certain stages take place on an extremely hard-packed surface covered with a thin top-coating of soft gravel, while others are much sandier. In the latter, deep ruts also tend to form during the first runs."
"On-site testing is not permitted and it is difficult to find similar tracks in Europe. Usually, testing for Japan takes place in Wales. This year, however, our partner teams did not do any specific work for Rally Japan. If the conditions are wet, we will base ourselves on the data collected for this year's Rally GB. If the going is dry, our drivers will use the evolutions of the g-Force Gravel we took to Sardinia earlier in the year. They are more responsive and more precise."
Certain drivers have a special reason for wanting to come away from Japan with a top result. It was here that Sebastien Loeb made sure of his second world title last September and this year's visit could well see the Frenchman establish a new record by becoming the first ever driver to accumulate a total of 27 world class wins.
Meanwhile, BP-Ford/BFGoodrich's Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen will be eager to postpone that feat as long as possible in order to bridge the points gap that separates their team from Kronos Total Citroen/BFGoodrich in the Manufacturers' standings. Gronholm, who is not all that far off the record number of WRC wins himself with a score of 22, took the laurels last year in Japan. His team-mate was also in impressive form twelve months ago driving a Skoda Fabia WRC, while another leading favourite Petter Solberg was the unlucky hero on Subaru's home soil in 2005.
RALLY JAPAN SEEN BY... SEBASTIEN LOEB(Citroen/BFGoodrich)
"It's quite a fast rally which I would put in the same category as Rally GB, New Zealand and Finland. The stages tend to be hard-packed with a topcoating of gravel, a bit like in Wales. But other stages are very sandy and deep ruts usually form before the second pass. Last year, we used some portions three or four times and they became quite difficult to drive. Rally Japan is perhaps the round where nominating tyres ahead of the start is the most complex. Not only do we have to nominate the types of tyre we wish to have available two months in advance but we also need to cover a very wide range of conditions. In 2005, we used practically all the different types of tyre we had, from very soft to very hard compounds. And if the weather is consistently good or consistently bad all weekend, it is difficult to nominate a sufficient quantity of each type."
QUOTAS -- All Priority 1 drivers had to nominate their tyres for Japan (a total of 60, 35 of which may be used) before July 7. Only one type of tread pattern is authorised for Rally Japan.