Fourth for Atko as Loeb claims 5th WRC crown
- 2nd November 2008, 5:19pm
Driving his Impreza WRC2008, Atkinson and co-driver, Stephane Prevot, had a lonely drive on the final day, with big gaps to those in front and behind them.
However, the Gold Coast driver maintained his concentration over the final day’s nine stages, and remains in fourth place in the championship, with one round remaining.
A torrential downpour and consistent rain waterlogged the roads to the south of Sapporo today, making road conditions treacherous in the wet and muddy Japanese forests, and the rally became a real battle of survival.
Ruts and rocks were hazards that caught out many competitors, but the improving Impreza WRC2008 was up to the challenge and finished unscathed.
Some impressive times from Atkinson and team-mate Petter Solberg, including stage victories, bodes well for the future of the car, and the Subaru World Rally Team will leave Japan with renewed confidence.
“Starting the day we were too far behind to push for third, so the main aim was to keep our position,” Atkinson said. “The conditions were very tricky in the wet. Our front windscreen started fogging up towards the end of the longer stages and then we had a hard time seeing anything. It's been really tricky.
“But to a win a stage today was great, and with the speed that the car has shown on the team’s home event, it shows that we’ve made some big steps forward.”
Again Rally Japan has proved unforgiving, but overall there have been a lot of positives from this event,” Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Richards, said.
“It clearly shows the potential of the new Impreza. Our recent testing efforts have focused on our gravel performance, and the benefit of this is beginning to show.
The final day of Rally Japan entailed two groups of four stages, separated by a fifth run around the super special stage at the Sapporo Dome. The longest stage of the day was the 27.76 kilometre Sikot test.
Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen held off a late charge from his team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, but third place was enough for Frenchman Sebastien Loeb to clinch a record-breaking fifth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship crown.
Behind Atkinson in fourth, the two factory Suzukis of Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister took fifth and sixth, while Petter Solberg’s Subaru was eighth after losing a wheel and dropping down the order on the final forest stage of Day 2.
After the cold of Japan, the final round of the 2008 World Rally Championship will be no different. The weather for Wales Rally GB (December 5-7) will yield ice and fog, and the chance of heavy downpours, making the tight gravel routes that wind through the forests incredibly treacherous. The rally is one of the quickest of the year and experience definitely counts.
Rally Japan, final placings:
1. Hirvonen / Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC, 3h25m03.0s
2. Latvala / Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC, +31.1s (diff to leader)
3. Loeb / Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, +2m30.6s
4. Atkinson / Prevot, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +3m42.4s
5. Andersson / Andersson, Suzuki SX4 WRC, +5m12.9s
6. Gardemeister / Tuominen, Suzuki SX4 WRC, 6m09.4s
7. Wilson / Martin, Ford Focus RS WRC, +7m05.3s
8. Solberg / Mills, Subaru Impreza WRC2008, +13m19.9s
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