Petter Solberg (Subaru) dominated the day to extend his lead over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) to 69.2 seconds. The Norwegian was fastest on all five of the morning stages and two more this afternoon. Loeb slipped behind Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (Peugeot)...
Petter Solberg (Subaru) dominated the day to extend his lead over Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) to 69.2 seconds. The Norwegian was fastest on all five of the morning stages and two more this afternoon. Loeb slipped behind Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) early on but when the Finn lost all but third gear later in the morning, the Frenchman moved back ahead. Grönholm dropped to fifth but with a new gearbox fitted at service, he climbed ahead of Carlos Sainz (Citroen), only to slip behind again when a bad tyre choice cost time late this afternoon. The gap between the two is 11.6 seconds. Mikko Hirvonen's (Subaru) slim hopes of catching Duval were effectively ended when he incurred a one minute penalty for checking into a control early. There were no major retirements today and all the manufacturer-entered cars are still running.
81 drivers left Obihiro parc ferme at 0530hrs this morning, 14 of which had re-started after retiring on yesterday's Leg
Leg two comprised 124.98 competitive kilometres and a liaison distance of 502.72km. Crews contested a further eleven loose gravel stages (two groups of five, followed by another visit to the Super Special stage at Satsaui). Stages were located north east of the service park at Kita Aikoku
Skies were bright and sunny all day. Temperatures started at 17°C degrees this morning, rising to 25°C by mid-afternoon. Stages were mostly dry loose gravel
The final leg is based north-west of Obihiro in natural forest. Drivers again leave the city at 05.30 to tackle two identical loops of three stages, split by a third and final pass over the Satsunai super special and a service break at Kita Aikoku. They face 111.94km of competition before returning to the service park for the finish ceremony at 16.00.
After day 2 of Rally Japan, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena still lie an excellent second. Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti, fifth this morning, gained one place to move ahead of Marcus Grönholm (stage 14), with whom they have been swapping positions throughout the afternoon.
Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: Seb' adopted a controlled pace for the second group of stages, leaving Carlos Sainz in a thrilling battle with Markko and Marcus. He encountered no problem throughout the afternoon except a spin with a stalled engine on stage 18. The team which was gathered in the Citroën service area in Kita Aikoku shook when watching the first split time on the screen but felt relieved with those following. "I said yesterday that the key point would be tyre choice," explained Seb. "It was true. The compound we chose for our tyres for the first loop was too hard. It changed the situation and I know now that I have to secure my second place."
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: Carlos Sainz has adopted his usual tactics in the close battles : fight for any tenth of a second. This is how he won today's penultimate and final stages. "It was a very tiring day - mainly because of the long road sections - difficult but also more rewarding than yesterday's. There's still a long way to go and I'm sure the battle with Markko Märtin and Marcus Grönholm will be exciting."
Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg delivered an outstanding performance aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today to extend his overall lead of Rally Japan from 12.7 seconds to 1 minute 9.2 seconds. Setting a string of consistently fast, controlled, times, including seven stage wins, the Norwegian dominated the action from the outset. Contesting Subaru's first ever WRC event on home soil, Petter's team-mate Mikko Hirvonen also had a good day. Growing in confidence with every kilometre, the Finn set some solid times in his Impreza and ended the day in seventh position overall. Both Subaru Impreza WRC2004s ran without fault all day.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: I'm very pleased with what we've achieved today. The lead is a little more comfortable now but, as I know more than most, things can change so quickly that there's no alternative than to keep pushing. The car and the tyres have been so good today, that I just have to keep focused, follow the split times and keep it steady. I'm not out to prove anything more than that.
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: Overall it's been a good day. I'm happier with my driving on these stages than I was on Leg one, and even with a pretty bad road position I think I've found a good driving rhythm. It's a bit of a shame that I wasn't able to get this feeling straight away yesterday, but it's good to be setting some quick stage times now. Receiving the time penalty was very disappointing, there was a mix up somewhere, but we have to accept it and focus on continued improvement on the stages tomorrow.
Markko Märtin and Michael Park climbed to third during today's second leg of the Rally Japan as both BP-Ford World Rally Team cars continued to hold top six places. Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car posted a string of top three times on today's demanding gravel speed tests to close the gap to second-placed Sebastien Loeb with one day of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship remaining. BP-Ford team-mates François Duval and Philippe Droeven are sixth in their Focus RS. The Belgian duo claimed a special stage victory during an untroubled day in the forests of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and will start the final leg just 8.6 seconds behind fifth-placed Marcus Grönholm.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: Märtin and Park started the day in fourth but climbed to third this morning after the 28-year-old Estonian posted three second fastest times on the opening five stages. However, he continued to struggle with his pace notes behind the wheel of the Castrol-branded Focus RS. "I don't know what I was thinking when I made some of these notes because they were far too fast," he said. "There's no way I could make as many changes as I needed too and sometimes it felt like I was on a third pass of the recce. It wasn't just fine tuning, I think they were worse than yesterday. Although I drove at 100 per cent, it was 100 per cent with a bit of guesswork. I did a lot of driving on what I could see, rather than with the notes. On the wide open sections it was OK, but on the narrower roads it was hard.
Francios Duval / Philippe Droeven: "We found a good rhythm this morning although we still changed quite a lot of pace notes," said Duval. "Our tyre choice was good and the Focus handled better after making the suspension softer. We kept that good feeling this afternoon. The roads felt nicer to drive than yesterday and I'm in a good position now. I would be happy to finish there."
Peugeot drivers Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera have ended the second leg of the inaugural Rally Japan in fifth and eighth places respectively. Marcus started the day challenging for the lead, but dropped to fifth after his car became jammed in third gear on SS13. The problem was fixed at service, and Marcus fought back to set some competitive times during the afternoon, before being slowed by a tyre choice that was too hard for the stage conditions. Harri dropped time yesterday with gear selection problems, which forced him to start today as the first factory car on the road. The loose gravel meant that he dropped time in the morning, although the situation improved as the roads cleaned for the second run in the afternoon. His Peugeot 307 WRC was entirely reliable throughout the day.
Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: "We started the day optimistic that we could move up the leaderboard, but then quite suddenly we could only get third gear on SS13. I tried to limit the damage as much as possible, but it was clear that we were going to lose some time. In the afternoon we took a gamble on hard tyres, but it didn't pay off. I'm still optimistic that we can score some good points tomorrow."
Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietiläinen : "We really struggled in the morning with all the loose gravel: it was some of the worst that I've seen. The car was good, but unfortunately we were not in a position to capitalise on it. In the afternoon we had a better time, but we already lost too much to stand a chance of a top result. Now it is just a question of coming home with as many points as possible."
Weather conditions are expected to be wet and unpredictable, making tyre choice a difficult factor.