Friday wrap: Solberg battles illness to lead in Japan Petter Solberg has not won a round of the world championship since Rally GB in 2005 but all that could be about to change after the Norwegian completed the opening day of Rally Japan with a...
Friday wrap: Solberg battles illness to lead in Japan
Petter Solberg has not won a round of the world championship since Rally GB in 2005 but all that could be about to change after the Norwegian completed the opening day of Rally Japan with a lead of almost 10 seconds in his privately-run Citroen C4 WRC.
While that might not represent a huge advantage, Solberg has battled a fever throughout the day, which he admits has masked some of his pace.
"It has not been easy at all today," said Solberg. "I am feeling a lot better than I was but it's very strange when you don't feel okay and don't have the energy you need. Now I need a good night's sleep to sweat out the last bit [of fever]. The car is working very well and we have had a good pace and a good performance today so I am happy. I know there is more to come from me."
Mikko Hirvonen completed the opening loop of three stages today in fourth overall but an upturn in pace in the afternoon has enabled the factory Ford Focus driver to leap to second, 9.4s behind Solberg, courtesy of two stage wins.
"It's worked really for us today," said Finn Hirvonen. "I didn't want to go too fast too early so I've been building up my speed slowly and it's starting to be pretty good. We have to see what we can do tomorrow. I didn't change anything at midday service, I just went for it because the others were doing that too."
Sebastien Ogier is third on his first Rally Japan. He is also the leading works Citroen driver after team-mate and title leader Sebastien Loeb lost significant ground cleaning the road of the loose surface gravel on Friday morning.
Ogier, who held the overnight lead after going quickest on both of Thursday evening's superspecial stages, said: "To be racing to be in the lead is very good for my first visit to Japan. The road has been very bad this afternoon so it has not been easy. For this reason I am very happy. The car has been perfect but we made some changes to the set-up to adapt it for the rougher stages in the afternoon."
Loeb, meanwhile, suffered a broken front damper to add to the delay he suffered running first on the road. His road position remained a hindrance for the afternoon tests due to the ruts that had formed following the first pass of the three gravel stages.
Jari-Matti Latvala, who is fourth in the second works Focus, reported making two small mistakes on stage seven. "I just got confused with my notes on a few occasions and ended up braking too early," he said after completing day one 15.4s off the overall lead.
Dani Sordo completes the top five in his Citroen Junior Team C4 but was left to bemoan a gearbox glitch that struck during the afternoon.
Henning Solberg is seventh with Stobart M-Sport team-mate Matthew Wilson completing the top eight. Federico Villagra is ninth in his Focus, 16.6s clear of ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who spent the day adapting to the challenging gravel roads around host city Sapporo.