Friday wrap: Ketomaa in charge in S-WRC fight Jari Ketomaa will start day two of Rally Japan with a lead of 55.3s in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship section of the gravel event. Martin Prokop, in another Ford Fiesta, is second with ...
Friday wrap: Ketomaa in charge in S-WRC fight
Jari Ketomaa will start day two of Rally Japan with a lead of 55.3s in the Super 2000 World Rally Championship section of the gravel event. Martin Prokop, in another Ford Fiesta, is second with Bernardo Sousa making it a Fiesta top three.
With Czech driver Roman Pesek not making the trip to Japan as planned to drive his RUFA Sport-entered Toyota Auris, the S-WRC has attracted just three entrants for round eight of the 10-event series.
Although the stage was set for a thrilling battle following Thursday's two runs through the Sapporo Dome superspecial, which were won by Ketomaa and Sousa respectively, Ketomaa was left in the clear after completing Friday's first stage 30.5s faster than Prokop, with Sousa a further 9.1s slower than the Czech driver.
Prokop, who can move into the title lead with victory in Japan, suffered a tough start to the event when he encountered a tree trunk lying in the road - the legacy of Ford Focus World Rally Car driver Khalid Al Qassimi's accident - a little more than one kilometre into the 26.92-kilometre Iwanke Long stage.
Unable to take avoiding action, Prokop ran over the trunk, which then struck Al Qassimi's stranded car, thankfully without injury to any crew. Prokop's car was largely undamaged but the impact caused his onboard intercom system to fail, which made hearing co-driver Jan Tomanek's pacenotes virtually impossible.
"It was very difficult to find the rhythm again after that because I lost a lot of confidence," said Prokop, who is competing in Japan for the first time. "I am not happy with my situation but this rally is very difficult so I am just aiming for the podium and for some experience. We found some damage to the right-front corner of the car after the problem on the first stage today but other than that everything has been okay and the set-up was perfect this afternoon."
There were no such worries for Ketomaa, the S-WRC winner in New Zealand and Portugal earlier this season. Although he reported oversteer following the morning loop of stages, the Finn enjoyed a trouble-free afternoon.
"We've just managed the car in the afternoon," said Ketomaa, who was fastest on five of Friday's six gravel stages. "The level of grip and the condition of the road were not so easy but otherwise the car has been better in the afternoon. Now I just need to keep my position and not make any mistakes. The road has been very rough but we are confident tomorrow with such a big lead."
Sousa reported not being entirely satisfied with his pace on his first gravel rally for almost two months, adding: "I'm a little bit off the pace and not having a test did not help. Third place is guaranteed and Martin and Jari are really pushing like hell and there is no point me taking that kind of risk. I can see tomorrow's second loop being very dramatic because the road will be very rough."
P-WRC: Flodin builds big Production lead
Sweden's Patrik Flodin has built a comfortable two-minute lead in the Production Car World Rally Championship after the opening day of Rally Japan.
Flodin is bidding to return to the lead of the P-WRC and victory in Japan would be enough to push him ahead of defending champion, Mitsubishi driver Armindo Araujo, who has chosen to skip this round.
Flodin's task was made slightly easier on the second stage this morning when Toshi Arai crashed out of the rally. Flodin then reeled off the fastest times to build a lead of two minutes over second placed man Hayden Paddon.
Arai led from the start and pulled 11.3 seconds out of everybody on the 27-kilometre Iwanke stage, the event's first significant test. Unfortunately for the double Production Car champion, everything went wrong on a series of three jumps in a fast section of the Sikot stage. The car landed awkwardly after the second jump and turned into the trees at high speed. The Impreza collided with a tree and rolled three times. Both crew emerged unscathed but Arai went to hospital for a back x-ray, but was discharged earlier this evening.
After tweaking his Impreza's suspension after the first stage, Flodin settled into a day of driving sensibly. He'd taken 28.6 seconds out of Paddon in SS3 and then cemented that lead by taking more than half a minute out of the rest of the field in the next stage. "It's been a good day," said the leader. "The car is driving nicely now and we have a big lead. The tough part is keeping the lead for the next two days. But today has been okay."
Paddon was pleased with second place on his first trip to Japan, although he admitted the soft surface was causing him some concerns. "The ruts make it quite difficult," he said. "The car moves around a lot in them, but we've made some changes to the car and that seems to work. I need to keep this position until the finish, this would be good for the championship for me."
While Paddon might not have rated his chances of catching or troubling Flodin, he was three times as safe from the cars chasing him - he held a six-minute lead over the third placed driver Paulo Nobre. There was no such luxury for Brazilian Nobre as his Mitsubishi was being harried by the similar motor of former Champ Car race winner Michael Jourdain, who admitted he'd struggled through the day.
Subaru's Gianluca Linari was fifth and equally troubled by the Hokkaido roads. "The special stages have been very tough for me," he said.