Rally Japan: Subaru final summary

Subaru driver Petter Solberg claimed victory on Rally Japan today to take his third WRC win of the year and the eighth of his career. Dominating the event from the outset, the Norwegian and his co-driver Phil Mills, won by a margin of 1 minute...

Subaru driver Petter Solberg claimed victory on Rally Japan today to take his third WRC win of the year and the eighth of his career. Dominating the event from the outset, the Norwegian and his co-driver Phil Mills, won by a margin of 1 minute 13.3 seconds to become the only crew to lead a WRC event from start to finish this year. Claiming a maximum ten points in both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships, Solberg moves to second in the overall Drivers' standings. Subaru's young driver, Mikko Hirvonen put in another solid performance and, despite encountering a gear selection problem, brought his Impreza home in seventh place to collect two Championship points. Competing in a WRC event for the first time on home soil, Subaru scored its 42nd WRC win and the 41st with the Impreza.

Stage Reports

SS21: 0708 Rera Kamuy 1 (8.76km)

Despite suggesting he would be content with a second, or even third placed result in Japan, Sebastien Loeb pushed hard and was fastest through the first stage of the day. However, starting the stage with a lead margin of more than a minute, rally leader Petter Solberg was right behind his French rival and collected the second fastest time to maintain his healthy lead. Based in a landscape that was more hilly than that seen on Legs one and two, the narrow forest stage was the first indication of how much time the front-runners would concede as they swept the dry, loose gravel road surface for the cars behind. Running third on the road, Mikko Hirvonen was eighth fastest, while Harri Rovanpera, running second on the road, was seventh. After the finish, crews stopped for a refuel before moving directly to the start of SS22.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 5:17.5

SS22: 0733 Panke Nikorpet 1 (17.04km)

The first pass through the stage from Panke Nikorpet took crews through a series of long, fast straights. Loeb was again fastest, with Solberg 0.9 seconds back in second and Markko Martin a further 6.1 seconds back in third. With Solberg maintaining a 1 minute 6 second advantage at the finish, the major battle emerging was for overall fourth between Carlos Sainz, Marcus Gronholm and Francois Duval. On this stage, Gronholm was fourth quickest to reduce the gap between himself and fourth-placed Sainz to 4.6 seconds, but there was disaster for young Belgian driver, Duval. Leaving the road backwards on a right-hand corner 2km in, the Belgian was unable to rejoin the stage and retired. He had been in sixth position overall, 9.2 seconds off overall fifth. A good performance from Mikko Hirvonen saw the young Finn finish fifth in his Impreza, ahead of Rovanpera and he ended the stage in sixth position overall.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 9:38.3

SS23: 0801 Penke 1 (29.07km)

With a lead of more than a minute, Solberg was taking few risks on the first pass through the longest stage of the event, the narrow forest test from Penke, and was second fastest. After struggling with the accuracy of his pace notes throughout Legs one and two, Ford driver Markko Martin commented that he was beginning to understand the rhythm of the rally more on the final day. He demonstrated that by going fastest on the flowing, gravel road to take his first stage win of the event. In the battle for overall fourth, Gronholm charged through the test third quickest, 8.6 seconds ahead of Sainz. It was enough to snatch overall fourth from the Spaniard and, at the finish, four seconds separated the pair in the Finn's favour.
Fastest Stage Time: Martin (Ford) 17:13.4

SS24: 1000 Satsunai 3 (2.20km)

Drama before the stage for Mikko Hirvonen when a gear selection problem meant he was unable to drive his car into the checkpoint at the stage start. Mikko and Jarmo tried to fix the fault, but after five minutes the pair elected to push the car to the control instead. In accordance with WRC regulations, the organisers were obliged to recover the car to the end of the stage. Early indications suggested that Mikko would be unable to get the car back to service, but putting his mechanical skills to good use, he managed to engage first gear and drive the 6km road section back to the service area. Technicians replaced the gearbox in the scheduled 20-minute service and he was able to continue. Mikko was awarded a stage time of 4 minutes 32.4 seconds, calculated from the fastest time plus a three-minute penalty, but also collected a 50-second penalty for the late arrival at the control. He had been in sixth position overall. Looking to the leaders, Martin was fastest through the spectator-pleasing Super Special, with Gronholm second fastest and Sainz third. Solberg was fourth fastest and, after the finish, crews returned to the Kita Aikoku service park for a 20-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Martin (Ford) 1:32.4

SS25: 1231 Rera Kamuy 2 (8.76km)

Gronholm was seven seconds quicker than the previous fastest time set on the stage from Rera Kamuy, despite the road becoming more rutted as a result of its repeated use. The Finn's charge enabled him to pull away from Sainz in the overall standings and, at the finish, the gap between the pair had been extended to nine seconds. Martin was second fastest and Sainz third. Solberg was fourth fastest and maintained a comfortable lead of more than a minute. There were no leading retirements and, after the stage, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS26.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 5:10.5

SS26: 1256 Panke Nikorpet 2 (17.04km)

Solberg maintained a competitive pace aboard his Impreza on the second pass through the Panke Nikorpet stage to finish second fastest and maintain his overall lead by 1 minute 10.4 seconds. Gronholm was fastest, with Sainz third and Martin fourth. Hirvonen was seventh quickest, the same position that he lay in overall. Despite featuring of a series of long straights on clean gravel roads, the narrow stage meant average speeds were kept lower than those of other gravel events, such as Finland. Stage winner Gronholm recorded 107.43kph over the stage's 17.04km. After the finish, crews moved to the start of the final test of the event, SS27.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 9:31.0

SS27: 1324 Penke 2 (29.07km)

Subaru's Petter Solberg held his nerve and was third fastest through the final stage to claim victory on the inaugural WRC Rally Japan. Leading the rally in his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 from start to finish, the Norwegian crossed the line to claim his third WRC win of the year and eighth of his career. The victory also marked the 42nd WRC win for Subaru and the 41st for the Subaru Impreza. Loeb was fifth fastest to finish second overall, while Martin was quickest to secure the final podium place.
Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) & Martin (Ford) 16:43.4

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
It's an incredible feeling let me tell you! I'm so happy to have won here; It's such a special event for Subaru that to come here and win in Japan on the first attempt is almost like a dream come true. It couldn't be better! There are so many people I have to thank, at the team in the UK, at Subaru in Japan, and at Pirelli too, they all share this success and I'm so grateful. And to the spectators who came to watch us out in the stages, I hope you had a good time watching us, it's been a fantastic rally and I hope we can win it again next year!

Mikko Hirvonen
Well I felt there were two good things about this rally - my performance on Saturday, and this morning when I managed to get the car fixed and going again! I've learned a lot about this event though, and things are still improving, but I need to find a way of building my confidence and trust earlier, so I can start putting in good times on Leg one, rather than later on. Apart from the gear selector problem, the car ran perfectly all weekend and the team did a great job. I also want to thank the supporters who turned out to welcome us, it's been a good experience and I'm looking forward to coming back next year.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
I've almost run out of superlatives! The way Petter has driven this rally and the way he's come back from not only some big disappointments, but also a major accident, has been just incredible. I can't think of many other drivers that would be able to react to a run of bad luck in such a positive way. If anyone needed proof of his ability to become a multiple world champion, then this weekend has been just that. Mikko has delivered a good, solid job. He started sensibly, built the speed and was rewarded with some good stage times. It's a shame that he had the gear selection problem today, but he coped with the situation in a very professional manner. From the team's point of view, it's been a fantastic result after a huge amount of effort. Everyone in the team has worked so hard, that victory is the least the guys deserve. Pirelli too have done a great job and there's no question that in these conditions they gave us the edge.

News from Pirelli

Paul Hembery , Pirelli Tyres Director of Motorsport:
It's been a brilliant rally and a fantastic final result for Petter, who led from start to finish. Our Pirelli P Zero KM tyres really made the difference in Japan thanks to their narrow cross section, which was particularly effective on the hard gravely surface that is so typical of the area.

Next Event

Wales Rally GB: 17-19 September 2004
Round twelve of the sixteen event WRC 2004 FIA World Rally Championship starts in two weeks time, when crews move to the UK. Based in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, the gravel event has become famous for its muddy, gravel stages run through the forests of south Wales. Normally held in cold, wintry weather of November, this year's Wales Rally GB sees a calendar shift to September, when conditions should be warmer and more settled. Following a sprint round the Cardiff super special on Thursday 16 September, crews will start the event proper on Friday 17 September and contest a total of 394.04 competitive kilometres.


Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team