Rally Japan – Subaru preview
- 22nd October 2007, 8:41am
The FIA World Rally Championship heads to the Far East for the fourteenth round of the 2007 calendar, and the last long haul event of the season. Rally Japan, Subaru’s home event, is based in the city of Obihiro on Hokkaido, the most northerly of Japan’s islands, and takes place from 26-28 October.
As the only round of the WRC to take place in Asia, Rally Japan usually attracts hundreds of thousands of fans from all over the continent. Last year over 200,000 people attended the three days of competition, while the ceremonial start alone drew 52,000 spectators.
Rally Japan is a highly technical event with narrow, loose gravel stages which run through dense woodland on the edge of the vast Tokachi plain that stretches inland from the Pacific Ocean. Each day will be a grueling test for crews with ten stages per day on legs one and two and seven stages on the final leg. The stages vary greatly in both character and length, ranging from the 1.35km SuperSpecial stage round the service park, which is run a total of five times, to the longest stage Puray which totals 34.96 competitive kilometres. Coupled with long liaison sections, drivers will be on the road for 12 hours each day during the first two legs.
Changeable weather is as much a feature of Rally Japan as the long days. Although Obihiro is flanked by two mountain ranges, it lies in the path of Pacific weather systems which bring high winds and torrential rain to the island. With the rally taking place in autumn in the height of the typhoon season, it is likely that rain showers will fall each day, leaving the ground saturated. With some stages used five times, the roads can quickly become heavily rutted. Temperatures will be low, with a strong chance of snow as it dips below 0 degrees Celsius by night.
As with last year, Rally Japan comprises 27 stages. The five services during legs one and two do not permit refuelling, therefore there are four remote refuels on both days to cover the 465.40km of liaison on Friday and 468.78 on Saturday. In a change from last year, the stages farthest north will not be run to reduce the overall liaison distance.
The event commences with a ceremonial start in central Obihiro at 1930hrs on Thursday night. Leg one begins the following day with the first stage getting underway from 0733hrs. Sunday’s podium finish is scheduled for 1500hrs at the Kita Aikoku service park.
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered three cars for Rally Japan. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will be driving Impreza WRC2007 number seven, Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot will be driving number eight, and Xevi Pons and Xavier Amigo number 17. Chris finished fourth in Japan last year, and Petter and Phil won this event in 2004. Xevi Pons has never competed on a rally in Japan.
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director: “The last two gravel events have given us fourth places with Chris and we know we’ve made a number of significant improvements to the car since New Zealand. The additional test the team did for Japan went very well and our target and expectation is for Petter and Chris to be on podium pace throughout. It will be Xevi’s first time in Japan but his target is another points-scoring finish nevertheless. This is Subaru's home event and a strong result here is important for everyone in the team so we will all be pushing even harder than normal.”
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “The stages on Rally Japan are very tricky; very narrow and twisty in places and they can get cut up quite badly. It looks like it will be quite cold this year during the event, so it will be interesting to see how hard the ground is. It has always been soft before, and with some stages run five times, the route gets badly rutted quite quickly, but if the ground has a very hard base it will make the grip levels totally different.
“Subaru is the only Japanese manufacturer competing in every round of the 2007 WRC season, and being their home rally and a Subaru spectator-dominated event, everyone wants to see us do well. Chris and Petter have both gone well here in the past. For Xevi this will be his first time so he will need to use it as a learning experience. The days are very long and demanding, and it will be those who can maintain absolute focus, even through the long liaison sections, who will do well.
“In the run-up to Japan we found a good testing location that was representative of the conditions we can expect. Chris and Petter both tested there using some new packages on the car. Both of them were comfortable with the base setup and so we will carry that to Obihiro.”
Car Number 7
Petter Solberg: “Rally Japan is very important for us and I always enjoy traveling there. Even if we have had some mixed results, winning in 2004 but not finishing in 2005, the fans are fantastic and of course it is important as it is Subaru’s home event. I feel happier with the car after the event in Corsica last weekend and with the setup we have from our testing, so I hope we can have a good result.”
Car Number 8
Chris Atkinson: “Japan has been good for us in the past as we finished fourth last year and on the podium the year before. It’ll be a good change to get back to a gravel surface again after the recent asphalt double-header, and the car should be better suited to the bumpy and loose surface than the flat asphalt from the last two events. I’m looking forward to a good result, but it will be tough as the days are long and the stages demanding. Approaching corners you are often unsighted by the trees and it is difficult to always get the lines right, but there is no margin for error so it is a hard rally.”
Car Number 17
Xevi Pons: “I have never competed in Rally Japan before so I’m not quite sure what to expect. There are long days and a lot of stages which are very technical, so it will be hard. But it is an important event for the team so I will push as hard as I can without making mistakes. It is important for us to finish the rally and for me to learn as much as I can.”
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