Rally Japan: Round 13 preview

Rally Japan, the thirteenth round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, starts next week on 30 September. Coming just two weeks after Wales Rally GB and the tragic accident that claimed the life of Peugeot co-driver Michael Park, preparations...

Rally Japan, the thirteenth round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, starts next week on 30 September. Coming just two weeks after Wales Rally GB and the tragic accident that claimed the life of Peugeot co-driver Michael Park, preparations for Japan's usually colourful and vibrant rally have been made in a more sombre and subdued atmosphere than normal.

Leg one takes crews close to the town of Rikubetsu and features a variety of stages, from a short 2.73km Superspecial to the longest of the entire World Championship, the marathon 50.06km stage from Kunneywa to Niueo. Leg two again returns crews to the north of Obihiro and features 12 stages, including two new speed tests. Leg three, the shortest of the event, comprises only five stages before crews head back to the service in Kita Aikoku, six kilometres from the centre of town, for the finish. A Superspecial is run on all three days of the rally through a purpose-built stage near the Satsunai river that runs past Obihiro.


Clear leaders in the Drivers' championship with a cushion of 34 points over their closest rivals, defending champions Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have a chance to clinch their second consecutive title in Japan. For that, all they need is to obtain six points, the equivalent of finishing in 3rd place.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "My priority will be the championship. Rally Japan is not one of the events I want to win the most. That said, I won't surprise anybody if I say that I will start at a pace at which I feel comfortable. In Wales, I felt extremely confident with the car. I obviously took some risks but I don't believe they were unconsidered risks. If I feel just as confident in Obihiro, and if my natural pace enables me to challenge for victory, then I will go for it. If I see that keeping up with the leader -- or leaders -- means that I have to take excessive risks, then I will concentrate on the championship and try to wrap it up in Japan. It will be nice to be able to go to Corsica with a free mind. The Tour of Corsica is one of the rallies I really do want to win!"

Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "The stages are very narrow, and the grass that masks the corners makes it very difficult to read the road. The only way to anticipate what's coming next is to drive 100% to your pacenotes. Judging by what we achieved last year in the circumstances I have just described, and also going by my recent performance with Sven on Rally GB where we set some excellent stage times without making any mistakes, I feel quite optimistic. My confidence is back and Sven and I now function perfectly together, so I think we should be able to meet the objective set by Citroen for Rally Japan..."


The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two WRC cars in Japan driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Stephane Sarrazin will complete the recce to gain experience of the event. Petter Solberg makes his second Rally Japan appearance after winning the event in 2004. Chris Atkinson contests Rally Japan for the third time after having competed when the event formed part of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. The young Australian's best result came in 2004 when he won the Super 1600 class.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "First and foremost my thoughts are with Michael's family and friends. Beef was a great guy and he will be missed by the whole of the WRC. Both Phil and I knew Michael well after being team mates in 2001 and Phil in particular was very close to him. Everything else that happened at Rally GB seems insignificant next to what happened. The final leaderboard showed that I won the event, but in my mind I finished second. Sebastien deserved the win, but I can understand the reasons why he did what he did. But now we all have to keep going - it's what Beef would have wanted. Rally Japan is Subaru's home event and we have a lot of support there so it's very special for us. It's a very technical event as it can be difficult to read the roads, but we won here last year so we're looking for maximum points again."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Of course Rally Japan won't be the same without Beef. He was a top guy and we'll all miss him. I think of Rally Japan as my second home event as I have a good understanding of the roads and the conditions. We've competed in the event for the past two years when the event was part of the Asia-Pacific Championship. We've had a good run here too - last year we won our class and set some fast times on most of the stages. The roads are fast and narrow and are quite similar in places to GB, except with more tree cover. Last year the route was very tricky in the damp conditions, but this year it may dry, which will change the character of the stages."


Following the tragic death of Michael 'Beef' Park last weekend, the BP-Ford World Rally Team will not issue a sporting preview for the Rally Japan as a mark of respect. Please find following the rally schedule and contact details for the BP-Ford media service in Japan. We will resume our usual comprehensive news service from the rally on Friday 30 September. RallyeNewsletter and Rallye-Info.com would like to respect Ford's mark of respect and drivers quotes will follow after leg 1.


Peugeot travels to the thirteenth round of the calendar in 2nd position in the Manufacturers' championship, 20 points behinds its sister marque Citroen 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 Gronholm 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 Martin will not compete in next week's Rally Japan. The second 307WRC will be driven by Daniel Carlsson.


The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team heads to Rally Japan (September 30-October 2) Where the Fabia WRC 05 will make its first appearance amid the ancient traditions and cultures of the Far East. Armin Schwarz/ Klaus Wicha lead the team as usual while the second Fabia WRC 05 will be driven by Finland's Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen. The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team will enter a third Fabia WRC 05 on each of the forthcoming asphalt rallies in Corsica and Catalunya (October 21-23 and 28-30 respectively). On each occasion it will be driven by reigning Czech Rally Champions Jan Kopecký/Filip Schovanek who were lying ninth overall at one point on the final day of the recent Rallye Deutschland.

Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: I will go to Japan for the first time in 2005 so I haven't got much idea what to expect. I'm told the roads are very tricky.

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: I'm really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the Fabia WRC 05. It will be interesting to see what we can achieve -- Japan is a very tricky rally with stages that are fast and flowing but they also need a very precise driving style which I think should suit me. Some of the stages remind me of Finland. Japan is a very beautiful country.


The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team is ready for action on home territory and its three Lancer WRC05 crews are focused on a top result in Rally Japan - its most important round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen and Gilles/Herve Panizzi are piloting the two registered Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s, while "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore are driving a third factory-supported car on the only FIA WRC event hosted in Asia. Competing for the first time in its home event, the significance of Mitsubishi's three-car entry is enormous.

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "It's great to be in Japan; we have been waiting for the start of this rally for nine months", said Harri. "Shakedown was good for us and I really hope the feeling during the rally can be the same. I don't feel extra pressure, even though it is the most important rally for Mitsubishi; we try our best always, but I do feel very confident we can do something good this weekend; hopefully even a podium. The car and our performance gets better and better all the time and it would be special for us to make a very good result here. Tires are going to be very important too, as maybe the conditions will become cloudier, colder and even with some rain, but I hope we can make everything work for us".

Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: Gilles Panizzi, making his first competitive return to the team since the Cyprus Rally, is back in action having undertaken test duties for the team in recent months. "For sure it is not so easy for me because I have not done this rally before and I must learn everything quickly", said Gilles. "But we really try our hardest for Mitsubishi and the fans, but I don't think it will be possible to go maximum tomorrow. We must ease ourselves into the pace and increase our performance each day to make sure we can try and get a good result for the team. The weather could be a big factor for the tires, but the situation will be the same for everyone, so we will see".

-rallye newsletter-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team