Rally Japan: Subaru leg one summary

At the end of the first Leg of competition, Petter Solberg holds the overnight lead of Subaru's home event, the WRC Rally Japan. Dominating the rally from the outset, the Norwegian scored four stage wins aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 and held...

At the end of the first Leg of competition, Petter Solberg holds the overnight lead of Subaru's home event, the WRC Rally Japan. Dominating the rally from the outset, the Norwegian scored four stage wins aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 and held position at the top of the leaderboard throughout the day. His 24-year-old team-mate Mikko Hirvonen grew in confidence throughout the Leg and holds overnight seventh place, well positioned ahead of tomorrow's action.

SS1: 0738 Yam Wakka 1 (23.26km)

The first stage of the first ever WRC Rally Japan gave Subaru's Petter Solberg the chance to show the potential of the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 on home soil. Charging through the narrow, loose gravel 23km stage, the Norwegian was fastest by 10.7 seconds, a significant margin as the next three drivers, headed by Citroen's Sebastien Loeb, were separated by three seconds only. Marcus Gronholm was third quickest with Markko Martin, fourth. Mikko Hirvonen suffered a half spin in his Impreza, nudged a grassy bank and blocked the airflow to his car's radiator with earth. He was eighth fastest. The stage from Yam Wakka was the first opportunity for the competing WRC crews to experience the Japanese stages at full competitive pace and Solberg recorded an average speed of 92.68kph. With no sign of the torrential rain experienced earlier in the week, stage conditions remained dry with some damp patches and a hard base. Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera suffered a gearbox problem in his 307 and was forced to complete the stage without fourth gear. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS2.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 15:03.5

SS2: 0821 Kunneywa 1 (21.56km)

Featuring steep drops off each side of the raised narrow gravel road, the 21km stage from Kunneywa demanded the ultimate in precision driving. Long grass that lined the roadside hid rocks and ditches, while the route took crews through a series of long straights and sweeping corners. Reaching speeds of 198kph, Solberg was once again fastest, this time by 6.9 seconds, to extend his overall lead to 18.1 seconds. It was a significant effort after just 44km of competitive driving. Gronholm was second fastest with Carlos Sainz third. Rovanpera continued to struggle without fourth gear in his 307 and lost 38.4 seconds to the leaders. Having cleared his car's radiator on the preceding road section, Subaru's Hirvonen was back on the pace and was seventh fastest. A good run by Ford's Francois Duval saw him record the fifth fastest time, despite contesting the event without his usual co-driver Stephane Prevot. Stephane returned to Belgium following a family bereavement and had been replaced in the co-drivers seat by Philippe Droeven, who had partnered Duval at an early stage in his career. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS3.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 12:11.5

SS3: 0851 Niueo 1 (6.57km)

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb was fastest on the first pass through the longest test of the day, with Solberg second fastest and Gronholm third. Loeb's surge moved him up to second overall, dislodging Gronholm to third, but at the finish less than half a second separated the pair. On gravel roads that required cars to find a compromise between high-speed stability and good traction, Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen was sixth fastest in his Subaru, while Duval was seventh and Rovanpera, still driving with no fourth gear, was eighth. After the finish, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS4.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 15:28.3

SS4: 0948 Rikubetsu 1 (2.80km)

As Gronholm and Loeb continued to trade times and tussle for overall second, Subaru's Solberg was once again fastest. Finishing the short test 0.6 seconds quicker than Gronholm, the reigning World Champion took his third stage win of the day and increased his overall lead to 19.9 seconds. Citroen driver Carlos Sainz was third fastest, despite complaining of understeer, while his team-mate Loeb was fourth fastest. Ford team-mates Martin and Duval set exactly the same time over the loose surface to tie for overall fifth, although Martin admitted that he was struggling with his pace notes on the new stages. After the finish, crews returned to the main service area at Kita Aikoku for a 20-minute service.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:13.0

SS5: 1459 Yam Wakka 2 (23.26km)

At the preceding service, many competitors commented that, as this was a new rally, they were not 100 per cent happy with their pace notes. The first repeated stage, the test from Yam Wakka, gave drivers the opportunity to review them and stage times were generally quicker as a result. However, a lack of distinctive features through the narrow forest stage made it difficult to pick out landmarks. Loeb was fastest, with Solberg 0.1 seconds slower for second and Gronholm, who suffered with overheating brakes on his 307 towards the end of the stage, third. Growing in confidence at the wheel of his Impreza, Hirvonen was sixth fastest, but Rovanpera's unhappy rally continued. Having had a new gearbox fitted to his car in the preceding service, the Finn once again lost fourth gear in his 307 and dropped a further 18.8 seconds to the leaders. After the finish, crews moved to the start of SS6.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 14:46.6

SS6: 1542 Kunneywa 2 (21.56km)

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb was again fastest, with Peugeot's Gronholm finishing 0.8 seconds slower for second. Subaru's Solberg remained on the pace, but lost time when he was forced to brake suddenly to avoid an animal that had strayed onto the road. He was third fastest but, at the finish, still maintained a 17.7 second advantage overall. Citroen driver Carlos Sainz continued to struggle with the handling of his Xsara and managed the fifth fastest time, while Duval complained of understeer in his Focus and was sixth. A better stage for his team-mate, Markko Martin, saw the Estonian finish fourth fastest and move up into the same position overall. There were no leading retirements and, after the finish, crews moved to the start of SS7.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 11:54.0

SS7: 1612 Niueo 2 (26.57km)

While the second pass through the longest stage of the day bought no change to the overall top ten, Sebastien Loeb made up time on event leader Solberg. Charging through the narrow, loose gravel test, the Frenchman was fastest to end the stage 11 seconds off the overall lead. Gronholm was second fastest, while the reigning World Champion was third. Ford driver Markko Martin was fourth fastest, and Mikko Hirvonen, who had begun to find a driving rhythm and set-up he was happy with, was sixth. After the stage, crews stopped for a refuel before moving to the start of SS8.
Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 14:57.0

SS8: 1709 Rikubetsu 2 (2.80km)

Subaru's Petter Solberg was back on the winning pace for the penultimate test of the day and was fastest to take his fourth stage win and extend his overall lead back to 12.3 seconds. Ford team-mates Duval and Martin were second and third fastest respectively, their best finishing positions of the day, while Gronholm was fourth. Rovanpera continued to struggle without the use of fourth gear in his Peugeot, but with the stage just 2.80km long, he only lost 1.7 seconds on this one. After the finish, crews moved to the start of the final stage of the day, SS9.
Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 2:14.2

SS9: 1928 Satsunai 1 (2.20km)

Leg two concluded with a circuit of the floodlit, spectator-pleasing Super Special stage on the edge of the host town of Obihiro. Driving in front of a crowd of 2,000 people, Solberg was fifth fastest to maintain the overnight lead by 12.7 seconds. Loeb was sixth fastest, which was enough to hold overnight second, while Gronholm was fourth fastest to finish overnight third, 5.1 seconds behind Loeb. Mikko Hirvonen was eighth quickest to end the day in overnight seventh.
Fastest Stage Time: Sainz (Citroen) 1:34.2

Team Quotes

Petter Solberg
It's been a tough day but things have gone really well, better than I expected in fact, and I'm very happy. The car has been perfect, no problems at all. Perhaps I took a little bit of a wrong tyre choice for those last stages, but I can't complain. I'm just really pleased that my confidence in driving is back to normal and we've got a good chance for this rally. Of course there's still a long, long way to go, and Sebastien is doing well as always, but I'll be giving it my best shot tomorrow.

Mikko Hirvonen
Well, it's not been such a bad day, but I wasn't very happy with my driving on the first couple of stages. Things improved a lot in the afternoon, but after the small spin on SS1 it took a while to get into a comfortable rhythm with the pace notes on these stages. You have to be extremely neat through the trees and so you have to be really confident in your notes. But things definitely improved later in the day so I'm hoping to carry that form into tomorrow.

Team Principal, David Lapworth
A perfect start to the rally. Petter's done really well. He's controlled the pace and kept an eye on the split times throughout the day. We were perhaps a bit too conservative with our tyres choices for the afternoon, but felt that was the correct thing to do in the circumstances. Mikko got off to a slightly nervous start but his confidence and pace have improved throughout the Leg and he has every chance to make further progress tomorrow.

Team Talk
WRC rallying comes home to Subaru

This weekend's Rally Japan is the first WRC event to be held in Subaru's homeland and marks the first time the Subaru World Rally Team has competed in Japan since it was established in 1993. Subaru's Manufacturer Principal, Toshiya Azuma, explained the significance of the new event:

"Subaru is a global company competing in a global sport and, from a competitive point of view, we're approaching this rally in the same way as all the other events. But, of course we are very pleased to be competing in our home country. There are many rally fans in Japan who, up until now, have only been able to watch the sport on television and we hope that many more will support the team after seeing us here in Hokkaido. The crowds at the start ceremony were amazing. It's a relatively small city and there were many more people than we had expected there, and all were very passionate about Subaru, Petter and Mikko. On one stage today we gave out 2,000 flags to spectators in just 30 minutes!

"Rally Japan also gives us a great opportunity to involve our employees and business partners with the rally programme. We have brought many of our staff from Tokyo to see the rally, and have invited groups from other Japanese companies that supply components to Subaru. In total, over the rally weekend, we will host 3,000 guests in the service area and on the stages. By having the rally so close to our HQ in Tokyo, we're also holding many meetings to further integrate the engineering techniques of the rally team and our road car designers. Subaru Chief Designer, Andreas Zapatinas, will visit tomorrow, and we have already had meetings with the product planning and Impreza development teams. The rally is an excellent opportunity for us to involve the rally programme even more closely with our road car technology."

Tomorrow's Leg
Saturday 4 September 2004

Starts at 0530hrs when cars leave the Kita Aikoku Service Park to contest eleven more narrow, loose gravel stages and a further 124.98 competitive kilometres. The first stage, the short 7.89km test from Pawse Kamuy is located 82.45km from the service park and starts at 0728hrs. The final stage, a repeat of the Satsunai Super Special, starts at 1916hrs. The Leg will end with a 45-minute service before the final day of action on Sunday.


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team