Strong opening day for Suzuki on home territory
Both Suzuki SX4 WRC pilots are in the driver points at the end of the opening day of the Rally Japan, Suzuki's eagerly-anticipated home event. P-G Andersson returns to parc ferme in Sapporo holding a strong seventh place overall while his team mate Toni Gardemeister is eighth. After a trouble-free first day, the Suzuki drivers are both looking forward to another clean run through the stages tomorrow.

A number of incidents, underlining the drama of the World Rally Championship, affected the action today. Stages three and seven of the day were cancelled because of too much snow at high altitude, a characteristic of Hokkaido in winter. The sixth stage of the day was stopped, and the resulting delay also caused the cancellation of stage eight. The action ended with two runs through the spectacular spectator superspecial stage in the Sapporo Dome, where the cars raced side-by-side on a specially-designed circuit. This was the first time that rally cars had ever raced together under a completely covered stadium, and it proved to be a huge hit with the thousands of excited Japanese fans.

Today's stages were narrow and very slippery, with plenty of mud. The weather remained cold and dry in the morning, but conditions turned wet in the evening. Tomorrow's action is faster and more open, with ten more special stages scheduled. The first car is due out of parc ferme at 07:30 before the 156.78 competitive kilometres that make up day two.

Gardemeister had an unusual start to the rally, when he had to take a Japanese driving test earlier in the week because his normal Monaco licence was not valid in Japan. Although he passed the test, he has to carry a special sticker on the back and the front of his car to indicate that his is an 'inexperienced' driver!

Car news - Suzuki SX4 WRC n.11 (Gardemeister), n.12 (Andersson):
With yesterday's shakedown test taking place on asphalt inside the Sapporo Dome, the stages today were a big leap into the unknown for the Suzuki drivers along with all the other crews. With only a 30-minute service between the first and second loop of stages, there was not enough time to make major changes to the car set-up during the day, but nonetheless the drivers were reasonably pleased with the handling of the SX4 WRC throughout the opening lap despite a general lack of traction and grip. The cars completed the asphalt superspecial on gravel tyres with a full gravel set-up, before the final 45-minute service of the day, where some changes were made to the suspension settings in preparation for day two. Both cars have been entirely reliable today, continuing Suzuki's recent progress. Consequently the drivers are comfortably inside the top eight and are well-poised to move up the leaderboard tomorrow.

Driver news:
Toni Gardemeister: "The stages this morning were very slippery, with some snow by the side of the road as well, so it was a struggle to find traction. We plan to make a few changes to the set-up tonight, so hopefully the car should be well-suited to the stages tomorrow. But we're already very pleased to be in the points and the plan is definitely to continue this way, without taking any risks. The superspecial stage was a lot of fun and I think it was a great show for everyone!"

P-G Andersson: "I'm very pleased to be back on gravel, which is my favourite surface, and I think we've got off to a good start. Today's stages were very technical and tricky: I think we will enjoy the stages tomorrow and on Sunday more. For the time being we are in a good position and the car has been very reliable; now we have to capitalise upon this and avoid making any mistakes."

Team news:
Shusuke Inagaki, Suzuki World Rally Team Director: "We are pleased with the way that Rally Japan has started for us, with both our cars in the driver points, but there is still a very long way to go over 19 stages, so we cannot draw any firm conclusions. The conditions have not been easy, but our drivers have so far found exactly the right balance between speed and safety, so I would urge them to continue at this pace. We've been delighted by all the support we have received from our local fans, which has been much appreciated."

Day 1 Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 42m40.8sec
2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila +26.2s
3. S Loeb/D Elena +30.6s
4. C Atkinson/S Prevot +1m00.3s
5. P Solberg/P Mills +1m02.0s
6. M Wilson/S Martin +1m11.2s
7. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +1m11.6s
8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +1m36.8s
9. H Solberg/C Menkerud +1m46.6s
10. J Ketomaa/M Stenberg +3m01.4s

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