Rd.6 Rally Japan

Production Car World Rally Championship
26 to 28 October 2007


Hokkaido Stages a Dramatic Test for Crews

26 October 2007
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After nearly 14 months away, the World Rally Championship roared back into life in Japan as leg one of this year's Rally Japan got underway in the area northeast of Obihiro.

Going into the event it was local hero Toshi Arai well ahead in the driver's standings, his home crowd out in force to cheer him. His result this weekend could well earn him his second world championship in the Production category, so all eyes are on his performance.

The opening leg was split into two loops of four stages, followed by a pair of runs through the Obihiro Superspecial stage in the early evening.

The first stage of the morning saw a number of drivers get a rude awakening as to just how trecherous this event is, with more than a few falling off the road as a result. The trio of tests that followed was no easier, and by lunchtime there were broken cars littering the sides of the roads.

Among the SUBARU-equipped runners, Swedish sensation Patrik Flodin dominated the early stages, leading the way until well past lunchtime when he made a mistake on a pace note and ran wide off the road. He escaped down a side lane, only to get stuck on the way back up, losing a massive 12 minutes. "I was surprised at my performance early on because I didn't think I was driving well on the first group of stages," he said later. "Of course, losing 12 minutes puts a completely different outlook on this rally-but we're in a good position to fight our way back up the order tomorrow."

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Russian entrant Evegeniy Vertunov reported a big problem at lunch, saying he hadn't made good notes, and thus has a lot of work to do-but otherwise the car was OK. In the afternoon loop, he suffered from rim damage on SS6, but no time loss. He's reporting that the car working well, and that he's enjoying his run. "I reckon I could go faster. There are still problems with the notes, but we're working our way through that."

Spyros Pavlides reports being happy with his rally, he's enjoying the roads-though the second run-through in the afternoon wasn't as much fun as the first time. "We'll see what happenes tomorrow-I'm really enjoying myself here in Japan."

Toshi Arai had a trouble-free morning, with only a slow puncture on SS2. However, he was able to repair this on the road section between stages so lost no time at all. In the afternoon however, he went off the road at the same spot many WRC competitors also left the stage. It was a very tricky place, but the car's not damaged, though he did get stuck and lost considerable time as a result. He hopes to continue tomorrow.

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Japanese star Takuma Kamada took things fairly easy throughout the morning, playing the long game, trying to avoid punctures and staying clear of trouble. In the afternoon tests, he found those punctures-in SS7-and this cost him one and a half minutes. "It's been a bit tougher this afternoon, though we're up for the challenge and are looking forward to tomorrow's tests." The Japanese still managed to end leg one in fifth place.

Leszek Kuzaj ran SS3 with two slow punctures - which became very soft with 6kms remaining in the stage, losing the Pole a small amount of time. He did experience a slight problem on SS2, the first high-speed test of the partnership with new co-driver Craig Parry. The afternoon was kinder, Kuzaj steadily climbing the order-to eventually run sixth at the end of the day, very close behind Evegeniy Vertunov, the top SUBARU-equipped entrant, presently lying in fourth.

At the end of leg one, SUBARU-equipped crews were running fourth, fifth and sixth. Local competitor Y. Ikemachi, running a SYMS-entered car, finished leg one in 9th place after having started the day 11th.

Other hopefuls include championship title aspirant Toshi Arai-who, if his New Zealand exploits are anything to go by, could pull off a serious upset here on home soil.

George Donaldson

STI Group N Project General Manager:
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"Well, the first day of Rally Japan has promised well in the morning and "bitten back" this afternoon as far as the Subaru PWRC drivers are concerned.

"With Patrik Flodin leading and Toshi Arai second at lunchtime and Takuma Kamada close behind in fourth spot there was no doubt of the Impreza's ability in the very tricky conditions met by the crews on the first group of stages. However, the afternoon saw Takuma lose 90 seconds with a puncture and Patrik 12 minutes with an "off"-and worst of all, Toshi Arai slipped off the road and has to go into "SupeRally" after losing a massive 20 minutes.

"Despite the time loss Takuma is still very much in the fight for honours on this event, and is closely supported by Evgeniy Vertunov and Leszek Kuzaj.

"Both Patrik and Toshi will do their best to fight back tomorrow, but it's anyone's guess what they will manage now. Toshi of course must do his best to ensure some points as theoretically, he can still be beaten to the PWRC crown by his rivals on the last two events. It's all to fight for on leg two! With rain falling overnight the stages can only be even trickier on the second day and this should assist Toshi and Patrick who both revel in the very slippy conditions."

Tomorrow's tests promise even more of the gruelling unpredictablity that makes Rally Japan such a pleasure and a challenge.

Pos Driver Car Name Time   Diff  
1 Fumio NUTAHARA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:05:49.9 0.0
2 Gabriel POZZO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:06:41.1 +51.2
3 Armindo ARAUJO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:07:00.5 +1:10.6
4 Evgeniy VERTUNOV SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:07:16.0 +1:26.1
5 Takuma KAMADA SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:07:36.3 +1:46.4
6 Leszek KUZAJ SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:07:36.5 +1:46.6
7 Martin RAUAM Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:07:59.2 +2:09.3
8 Claudiu Stefan DAVID Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:09:37.4 +3:47.5
9 Yoshio IKEMACHI SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI 1:10:02.6 +4:12.7
10 Mark HIGGINS Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:10:45.3 +4:55.4