Following its introduction to the WRC calendar in 2004, Rally Japan will this year count towards the World Rally Championship for the second year running. The thirteenth of the 2005 season's 16-round series will also be the penultimate gravel ...
Following its introduction to the WRC calendar in 2004, Rally Japan will this year count towards the World Rally Championship for the second year running. The thirteenth of the 2005 season's 16-round series will also be the penultimate gravel fixture of the year before the closing round of the series in Australia. After being totally new for all the WRC regulars last year, this recent addition to the calendar features a number of detail changes this time round.
World class rallying underwent something of a mini-revolution in 2004 when, for the first time in its history, a round was programmed in Japan. Astonishingly, the series had never previously been to the land of the rising sun and its forays into Asia had until then been limited to Indonesia and China. The terrain was therefore new for all the teams.
This year's visit obviously marks less of a step into the unknown. As in 2004, the event takes place on the most northerly of Japan's four major islands, Hokkaido, while its nerve centre is based in Obihiro, with all the stages organised to the north of this city. Last year, the stages turned out to be very fast and not at all rough on the cars, but they were also narrow and the slightest error proved costly. The speeds reached put this fixture amongst the fastest of the season.
Despite mechanical trouble, Marcus Grönholm finished the 307 WRC's inaugural trip to Japan in 4th position, while his then team-mate Harri Rovanperä was 6th.
Peugeot travels to the thirteenth round of the calendar in 2nd position in the Manufacturers' championship, 20 points behinds its sister marque Citroën which tops the provisional standings. With four rounds remaining, and with a one-two finish worth a total of 18 points, the contest is still far from over, although Peugeot's situation has become more difficult since Wales Rally GB. In the chase for the Drivers' title, Marcus Grönholm is currently 3rd with a score of 61 points. The Finn's objective will be to try to regain 2nd place. Following his tragic accident on the final day of the recent Wales Rally GB, Markko Märtin will not compete in next week's Rally Japan. The second 307WRC will be driven by Daniel Carlsson.
Despite being unaccustomed to world class rallying, the Japanese spectators turned out in large numbers to watch the sport's top crews and an even bigger attendance is expected this year.
One of the principal unknowns relating to the Japanese round is the weather which can be very unsettled at this time of year in this part of the country, so getting tyre choices right will be particularly crucial. Following Sardinia, Argentina and Finland, Japan also stands out as the fourth event of the year for which just one type of tyre pattern is authorised. With a modified route, tighter timing, difficult tyre choices and unpredictable weather on the menu, the 2005 Rally Japan clearly has all the ingredients to be yet another fiercely fought affair. And for Peugeot's drivers, the event will understandably be a very emotional moment.