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GP Week : Issue 34
completely new venue for the world championship this year. The course will be fresh to F every international competitor, based on Hokkaido Island at the north end of Japan, but the event is still run by the same organization, based locally and which can take World Championship rallying to a much greater spectator catchment area than previously. The original announcement by the FIA, in 2003, that Rally Japan was to be included in the World Rally calendar brought curiosity. In order to include Japan’s event in the series, the whole structure of the championship had to be altered, by increasing the number of qualifying events from 14 to 16 events. The reason why teams wanted the event to be 38 ollowing on from the Rally Jordan earlier in the season, Rally Japan will be the second included was the supposition of gaining exposure in a country which traditionally is the world’s second largest car market – but in fact the reality was not what had been hoped for. The chosen location, Hokkaido, while it offered the best available roads for special stages in the country, is isolated from mainstream Japanese activities. This meant the rally was never likely to influence the country’s car buying customers. Regardless, Rally Japan, version one, had some special opportunities, being run in the mystic Orient – but even so the opportunities to integrate the sport with indigenous cultural delights were not plentiful. The Obihiro countryside in central Hokkaido, where the event was previously run, was a visual mix not so much of traditional Japan but of Finland and New Zealand combined! All of which makes the move to the new base intriguing. The world championship has been to central Hokkaido four times. This time the rally goes to western Hokkaido and will be run out of Sapporo, which is much more easily accessed than Obihiro, and where the headquarters is the remarkable Dome, the sports arena facility in itself making a most exciting new change. Inside the Dome, which is about five kilometres from the city centre, will be a side-by-side superspecial course, most of which will be run under cover with just short stretches outside the arena. This will be used not only for Shakedown but also as a competitive stage five times during the event. Around the outside of the Dome is the service park, while the Ceremonial start and Finish will be held there as well. The main stages of the event will be held on gravel tracks like before, though there will be a second spectator venue stage out of town, close to the international Chitose airport. This will be used four times. The proliferation of these short promotional sections means that there will be no fewer than 29 competitive sections in all. This has a profound effect on the running of the event in that a driver forced to withdraw during a day will incur a far higher penalty than usual if he restarts under SupeRally rules. Teams are also happy about the change in region because the forest stages, which represent the bulk of the event, are much closer to town. The very long transport sections to and from the service park have been halved in length, even though any main road driving in Japan is still tedious and slow! Pirelli’s experts have inspected the stages and report that they are not that different to those used on the Obihiro stages. However, this year the rally will be held later in the year, in