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GP Week : Issue 35
>>WRCJAPAN S EBASTIEN Loeb achieved an unprecedented fifth World Rally Championship in successive years, having cruised home to third place in Rally Japan. The BP Ford team scored its third 1-2 result of the season and resisted the hopes of the Citroen Total team to regain the manufacturer’s title on this event – the team will have to wait until Great Britian. Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala headed the results lists, but Loeb gained the greatest applause, not just for the title achievement, but the difficulty of driving in adverse conditions under great pressure. “I couldn’t get the rhythm,”he said. “The only thing I had in my mind was to make no mistake. It wasn’t easy to keep the car on the road in these conditions. Five titles proves I have had a winning car nearly all the time in my career, so it’s the whole team that has won this.” Loeb inherited his necessary third place on the first day after a serious accident befell Francois Duval, who was back driving for the Stobart team. On SS6, Duval’s car slid into a metal guardrail post, and the impact severely injured his co-driver Patrick Pivato, who remained in a critical condition in hospital for the rest of the rally. Duval had just risen to second place when the accident occurred. From that moment on the two works Fords dominated the event, while Loeb concentrated on his task of guaranteeing his third place. Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo had to stop with turbocharger failure, and although he restarted the second day, when it became clear he was going to finish outside the points the car was withdrawn for tactical reasons just before the finish. Driving on home ground, both the Subaru and Suzuki teams had a political message to give to their masters, and both were impressive. Subaru were lying fourth and fifth on the second day before Petter Solberg fell back after hitting an uncharted hole in the track. The Suzukis finished an unprecedented fifth and sixth. Both teams scored fastest stage times during the event, in the case of Suzuki this was for the first time ever. To get so far in just one year of top level competition has been an amazing achievement for them. On the final appearance this year of the Munchi’s team, leading driver Federico Villagra finished just outside the points, while team-mate Henning Solberg went off the road and retired. Matthew Wilson was the only Stobart car to finish, in seventh place. The one private C4, in the hands of Conrad Rautenbach, retired on the last day. And it all came in the face of some terrible weather. Some heavy rainstorms swept the region of the rally, particularly on the Saturday, leaving rivers flowing down the tracks that caused alarming hazards. On one stage no fewer than eight of the 86 starters were stuck or went off the road. There were many punctures, almost inevitably caused by hitting rocks in the road that had been unearthed by the earlier passing cars. With only the driver’s title resolved, the Wales Rally GB is now set to wrap up the unfinished business – but only BP Ford Abu Dhabi and Citroen Total can win the manufacturer’s series. 39