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GP Week : Issue 34
>> WRC InSIGHT conditions which are expected to be colder and maybe wetter than before. For that reason they have recommended to the FIA that soft rather than hard compound tyres be supplied. So, the facilities at the stadium are light years better than were at Obihiro; the base city is much bigger with many more amenities; the hard-surfaced service area is much more friendly than the stony and grassy surfaces in previous years. It all promises a great event.. Nothing new is anticipated among the World Championship teams for this event – all six official teams are expected to appear with exactly the same cars they used previously in New Zealand. The peripatetic Henning Solberg Expert-sponsored Focus WRC is running under the Munchi’s banner this time.. It is widely expected that both the World Drivers’ title will be decided in Japan, in Sebastien Loeb’s favour, and the Makes Championship series as well for Citroen – though Ford has a slim chance of postponing the outcome.. The only way that BP Ford can prevent championship defeat in Japan is by finishing 1-2, and then what Citroen achieve does not matter. Loeb starts Rally Japan 14 points ahead of Mikko Hirvonen, with no other drivers within sight of the title. Ten points go to the winner of each event, all scores to count, so even if Loeb fails to finish, he will be champion in Japan unless Hirvonen gains a top five placing. And as if the spectre of Loeb’s record fifth world title is not enough, there is the other matter of Loeb’s opportunity to increase his world record of the number of wins in a season, currently standing in his favour at 10 in both 2005 and 2008. With the possibility of a manufacturer scoring up to 18 points per event, the chances of Citroen also clinching the title in Japan are equally strong. Even if both Citroens retire in Japan (something which has not happened since Argentina 2002!), the company still gains the title unless Ford score more than five points. Any finishing position further strengthens their chances of going home with the title. In short, it would take a monstrous upset for either title to remain undecided after the weekend. With World Championship odds being very low, some attention will turn to the Production Car World Rally Championship. This will be the penultimate round of the PCWRC and four drivers are still in the hunt. Andrea Aigner (30 points) leads Juho Hanninen (26), Jari Ketomaa (23) and Patrik Sandell (22), but only Juho will contest this event, because of the ‘only six events’ rule, although Ketomaa goes to Japan in a non-championship entry. No driver can claim the title in Japan, so this title at least is sure to be resolved in Britain on the final round. The main technical novelty of the event will be the first championship appearance of a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, in the hands of regular PCWRC driver Fumio Nutahara and guest driver Takuma Taguchi, one year after a prototype rally-prepared Evo X was run as a course car on this event. A third Evo X is to run, driven by the private driver Hiroshi Hoshino This car has been rallied in Japan this year with success under national championship rules. A healthy entry of 88 cars has been received, 30 of which are FIA Championship drivers, three more than last year. There are to be two Guest drivers nominated by the federation for this event – Taguchi and the Subaru driver Takuma Kamada. 39