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Rally Japan opens up driver’s championship

by CAR magazine on 29/10/2007

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Mikko Hirvonen capitalised on the errors of the two main contenders for the driver’s championship to obtain his third career win, at the Rally of Japan this weekend. Rally Japan proved to be a real stuck-in-the-mud affair for the reigning WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and championship rival, Marcus Gronholm. Both rally aces retired on separate days due to pacenote errors.

Gronholm retired on the first day after crashing his Focus WRC. The flying Finn entered a left-hander and wrapped his Focus WRC around a tree stump. This error gave triple world champion Loeb a golden opportunity to score enough points to once again lead the driver’s championship. Loeb only needed a fourth place win to pull ahead in the standings, but a mistake in his co-drivers notes saw him take a dive down a bank after clipping a on day two.

“Sebastien and Daniel went off following a wrongly announced pacenote,” clarified Citroen Team Principal Guy Frequelin. “It’s Daniel’s first mistake in 10 years. I’ve told him to put it behind him and concentrate on the important job that lies ahead.”

Capitalising on the Team Citroen Error, Hirvonen kept his cool to steer the Focus WRC to a comfortable win, even after seeing Jari-Matti Latvala careening off the treacherous course close to where Loeb had exited.

“I was happy to be fighting with Loeb but he made a mistake and when I saw him in a ditch I slowed down. When I then saw Jari-Matti off the road as well I slowed even further because I didn’t want to follow them. The conditions were very wet but I had good grip and the tyres worked well. Every corner was so slippery that it was impossible to relax for a second”, said Hirvonen.

Dani Sordo, of Team Citroen inherited second place and after the end of the event confirmed Hirvonen’s statement. “With so much mud about it certainly wasn’t easy. The amount of grip available changed all the time but I managed to find a quick pace that enabled us to set some good times.”

Henning Solberg, Latvala’s Stobart Ford team mate, managed to score a third place podium finish after some the usual suspects were out of the equation on day two.

With the next event on tarmac in a new addition to the calendar, Ireland, the battle certainly has certainly heated up in the driver’s table. Loeb will have to win the last two events of the season to take this years drivers crown. The BP-Ford team remain in a favourable position to take the manufactures title.