SWRT forced to take the rough with the smooth
Just as was demonstrated yesterday, this afternoon proved a severe sting in the tail for the Subaru World Rally Team after another tough day of rallying in Japan. Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot continue to hold firm in fourth position overall, however after an emphatic stage victory for Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, the duo crashed out of contention in the midst of the Japan’s foreboding forests.

“Again Rally Japan has proved unforgiving, and of course it is disappointing for everyone that Petter has retired, but overall there have been a lot of positives today” said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. “Chris and Stéphane are in a solid fourth place, and Petter’s stage win clearly shows the potential of the new Impreza. Our recent testing efforts have focused on our gravel performance, and the benefit of this is beginning to show.”

The nature of today’s stages was much faster and more flowing. Stages 12 and 13, the second and third of the morning, were particularly fast, and both included absolutely flat out sections that really tested commitment and confidence.

Solberg and Mills set a blistering pace to clinch a convincing stage win on SS12, the second longest of the rally. The Norwegian demonstrated all the flair that took him to the 2003 World Rally Championship title to beat rally-leader Mikko Hirvonen by 1.8 seconds in a tooth and nail scrap to secure a crucial triumph on Subaru’s home event.

However, as road conditions became more rutted and deteriorated significantly in the afternoon and the darkness set in, the scene was set for a last-minute shakeup of the leaderboard.

Attacking hard and fighting with Sebastien Loeb for third place, Solberg and Mills ran into trouble on stage 18, the last proper test of the day before the final two spectator showpieces. The duo slid wide on a tricky left hander and spun, their Impreza suffering heavy right rear damage that forced them to retire from the day.

“Of course it is disappointing and I must say sorry to the Subaru fans, but we have had some very good things from today” said Petter Solberg. “We came round a left hander on stage 18 and hit a large hole and the car just spun around. I went to start again but the rear geometry was all broken. We were pushing hard and sometimes things like this happen. It’s disappointing, but honestly it has been a very good day. It was really good fun to drive and I really enjoyed it, and to win a stage is very good. We are definitely going in the right direction. We must look at the positives as there has been a lot good about today.”

Having been in fifth position after the morning’s four stages, Atkinson and Prévot delivered a solid drive in the conditions to move back into fourth by the day’s end. Their day was however not without drama too, spinning in exactly the same place as Solberg in the wake of his accident. They suffered less damage than their teammates however, and were able to complete the day with a comfortable advantage over Ford’s Matthew Wilson behind them in fifth position.

“Today was ok; we started ahead of Petter but he was a little quicker and got in front” said Chris Atkinson. “But then he had his accident which is unlucky for the team and the Subaru fans as we were both in good positions and you never know what could happen on this rally. In stage 18, when Petter went off it left a big hole in the ground and we hit it as well and spun round. We damaged our suspension a little bit, but ok we could drive still, but not flat out. I think we are too far behind to push for third tomorrow so the main aim is to keep our position.”

After yesterday’s rather brief day of rallying, today was the first full day of competition. Ten stages, including the longest of the rally at 33.66km, took competitors through 156.78 kilometres, making it the longest day of the rally. Once again, the day was wrapped up with two runs around the Sapporo spectator stage inside the Dome.

The weather was milder than yesterday and snow was not a factor, the temperature reaching a mild 12 degrees Celsius. Yesterday evening’s heavy rain drained away very quickly to leave the early morning’s stages dry.

Tomorrow’s route
The final day of Rally Japan comprises nine stages and at 96.43 kilometres it is the second longest of the rally, sufficient to ensure that no competitor can afford to back off going into Sunday’s competition. The stages are in much the same region as Saturday’s tests, south of Sapporo in the forests surrounding Chitose and Tomakomai. The day comprises five spectator stages, including the fifth and final running of the Sapporo test within the Sapporo Dome and the 2.57km Imeru finale.

Day 2 Leaderboard
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen 2h21m31.8sec
2. J-M Latvala/M Anttila +15.5s
3. S Loeb/D Elena +53.5s
4. C Atkinson/S Prevot +2m26.0s
5. M Wilson/S Martin +4m31.6s
6. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen +4m38.5s
7. P-G Andersson/J Andersson +5m11.8s
8. F Villagra/J Perez Companc +9m59.6s

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