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Hirvonen in easy Rally Japan win

Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) / Jarmo Lehtinen - Ford Focus RS

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen today won Rally Japan to claim their second victory of the season and the team's seventh success.  The Finns ended a dramatic three-day encounter with a 37.4sec advantage in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.  The result secured at least third place for Hirvonen in the FIA World Rally Championship drivers' standings with two of the 16 rounds remaining.

Behind Hirvonen, Dani Sordo (Citroen) set two fastest times en route to his best result on gravel and Henning Solberg (Ford) matched his career-best finish with third.  The fight for fourth was thrilling.  Matthew Wilson (Ford) began the day 21.7sec behind Luis Perez Companc (Ford) but overhauled the Argentine on the penultimate stage and held on by 2.5sec to score his best result.  Manfred Stohl (Citroen) rounded off the top six.  Petter Solberg (Subaru), competing under SupeRally rules, finished 17th to take two manufacturers' points.  Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) looked set to take the final point for the French team until engine problems on the penultimate test cost more than 12 minutes and he retired before the final stage.  So Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) took the point for the Stobart-VK M-Sport team, despite dropping 45sec after spinning shortly before the finish of the opening stage. 

Hirvonen's win enabled BP-Ford to increase its lead in the manufacturers' championship to 34 points.  A maximum 36 points are available from the final two rounds in Ireland and Great Britain.

Based in Obihiro on Japan's most northerly island of Hokkaido, the rally was characterised by fast but narrow gravel roads through natural forests in hills north of the city.  Fog and ice on the opening morning made conditions tricky and heavy rain overnight on Friday made the tracks treacherously slippery yesterday.  Glorious early-winter sunshine shone down on the drivers today during the final seven speed tests covering 97.33km.  In total, competitors tackled 27 special stages over 350.19km.

Hirvonen took the lead during the opening afternoon.  He extended his advantage as closest rivals Sébastien Loeb and Jari-Matti Latvala crashed and started today's final leg with a comfortable 38.2sec lead over Dani Sordo.  With no pressure from behind, Hirvonen matched his pace to Sordo's split times to ensure his third career success in the WRC.

"It was such a strange and difficult rally but the way it has turned out is perfect," said 27-year-old Hirvonen.  "The conditions were tricky with fog, ice and rain at different times during the weekend.  This morning I widened the lead over Sordo during the first loop of stages and that meant I could relax and drive a little easier over the second pass.

"When my team-mate (Marcus Grönholm) retired on Friday, the pressure was on me to score points to help the team's championship fight and to help Marcus in the drivers' series.  The only way I could do that was to fight with Loeb and try to beat him, which is what happened.  It keeps the team in a strong position for the manufacturers' title and keeps Marcus in front also," he added.  

BP-Ford teammates and championship leaders Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen crashed when leading on Friday.  The damage to the roll cage on their Focus RS forced them to retire for safety reasons, seemingly handing the advantage to arch rival Loeb in their fight for the world crown.  However, Loeb retired and with neither driver scoring, Grönholm retains a four-point lead at the top of the standings.

"The championship situation for us is the same as it was before we came to Japan," said Grönholm.  "I was expecting and wanting to come away from here with a lead over Sébastien and we are doing that.  I have to be happy that we still have that lead after what happened on Friday.  It's going to be really difficult but we're still confident going to Ireland and it looks like a really exciting end to the season.  We have to make no mistakes now and try for the win on both remaining events."

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson was delighted with Hirvonen's performance.  "Since midday yesterday he hasn't been under huge pressure and this was an impressive drive.  It's an important time for him as he prepares to step up within the BP-Ford team next year and he took his chance perfectly.  The way this rally turned out wasn't what I expected.  On Friday afternoon it wasn't looking so easy but in the end we've taken a step closer to the manufacturers' title," he said.

Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito said: "To win in Japan is special because this is one of the world's biggest car markets and to have four Focus RS cars finish in the top five here emphasises the performance and reliability of Ford's vehicles.  Leading both championships keeps us in a perfect position for an exciting finale to the season on the final two rounds," he said.   

Next round
The penultimate round is the final asphalt event of the season and a first appearance in the championship for Rally Ireland.  Using stages in both northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south, the rally is based in Sligo on 15 - 18 November.


Pos No. Class Driver Nat Car Gap To 1st Penalty
1. 4 A8 M. Hirvonen FIN Ford Focus RS WRC 07    
2. 2 A8 D. Sordo E Citroen C4 37.4  
3. 10 A8 H. Solberg N Ford Focus RS WRC 06 4:33.7  
4. 16 A8 M. Wilson GB Ford Focus RS WRC 06 6:37.9  
5. 11 A8 L. Perez RA Ford Focus RS WRC 06 6:40.4  
6. 5 A8 M. Stohl A Citroen Xsara WRC 7:04.3 0:40
7. 12 A8 F. Villagra RA Ford Focus RS WRC 06 11:15.3  
8. 61 N4 K. Taguchi J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 20:40.1  
9. 54 N4 G. Pozzo RA Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 21:53.0 0:20
10. 46 N4 A. Araujo P Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 24:13.5  
11. 66 N4 M. Ishida J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 24:32.4  
12. 41 N4 L. Kuzaj PL Subaru Impreza WRX STI 24:33.1 0:10
13. 52 N4 T. Kamada J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 24:41.4  
14. 69 N4 K. Kitamura J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 25:50.1  
15. 62 N4 N. Katsuta J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 26:07.9  
16. 79 A6 U. Aava EE Suzuki 2005 Swift 26:10.3  
17. 7 A8 P. Solberg N Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 26:28.2  
18. 53 N4 E. Vertunov RUS Subaru Impreza WRX STI 26:44.1 0:10
19. 64 N4 R. Mason NZ Subaru Impreza WRX STI 27:20.3  
20. 34 N4 M. Higgins GB Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 27:25.7 0:50
21. 73 N4 E. Iwashita J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 32:44.9  
22. 50 N4 P. Flodin S Subaru Impreza WRX STI 34:42.0 0:40
23. 70 N4 O. Fukunaga J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 35:37.1  
24. 36 N4 J. Hanninen FIN Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 39:14.8  
25. 38 N4 Y. Ikemachi J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 39:51.1 0:20
26. 9 A8 J. Latvala FIN Ford Focus RS WRC 06 40:49.6  
27. 48 N4 A. Farrah JO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 41:25.8  
28. 80 N4 M. Nakamura J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 42:09.1  
29. 75 N4 M. Nakajima J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 43:21.7  
30. 31 N4 T. Arai J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 44:05.7  
31. 43 N4 C. David R Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 46:55.0  
32. 37 N4 S. Pavlides CY Subaru Impreza WRX STI 51:54.7 0:30
33. 68 N4 Y. Taguchi J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 52:01.5  
34. 67 N4 M. Kahlfuss D Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 53:49.6  
35. 91 N4 T. Minamino J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 54:00.1 1:10
36. 17 A8 X. Pons E Subaru Impreza WRC 2006 54:11.6  
37. 95 N4 F. Takahashi J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 55:09.9  
38. 98 N4 T. Saito J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 55:53.6 1:00
39. 90 N4 T. Nishi J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 56:40.5  
40. 92 N4 M. Aoki J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 56:46.1  
41. 65 N4 G. Linari I Subaru Impreza WRX STI 59:10.3  
42. 89 N4 H. Namba J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 59:41.2  
43. 97 N4 T. Ikeda J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 1:00:52.3  
44. 88 N4 A. Bamba J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 1:01:40.8  
45. 102 N3 K. Oi J Ford Fiesta St 1:05:17.4  
46. 85 N4 K. Terao J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 1:05:20.6 0:10
47. 99 A5 K. Onodera J Daihatsu Sirion / Boon 1:05:49.1 0:20
48. 51 N4 M. Rauam EE Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 1:06:07.6 0:10
49. 96 N4 T. Yoshioka J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 1:08:26.1  
50. 74 N4 A. Masumura J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 1:09:11.3 0:50
51. 84 N4 H. Yoshitani J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 1:10:02.3  
52. 81 N4 Y. Mitani J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII 1:10:59.6 1:10
53. 112 A5 T. Amano J Toyota Toyota Yaris 3door 1:15:03.7 3:20
54. 76 N4 H. Hoshino J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 1:16:26.7 0:50
55. 104 N4 M. Fukumoto J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI 1:16:43.0 1:00
56. 87 N4 S. Imai J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII 1:19:11.6 0:10
57. 109 A7 Y. Tokita J Honda Integra Type-r 1:20:26.7  
58. 78 N4 T. Akiba J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 1:22:54.2  
59. 107 N1 M. Ito J Daihatsu Sirion / Boon 1:22:58.2  
60. 114 A6 R. Hirayama J Honda Civic 3 Door Sir 1:23:50.2 0:20
61. 40 N4 S. Marrini I Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ix 1:27:47.1  
62. 82 N4 T. Yoshii J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII 1:28:05.5 3:00
63. 105 A6 T. Irinatsu J Honda Civic 3 Door Sir 1:30:17.0 0:30
64. 108 N4 Y. Hagiwara J Subaru Impreza WRX STI 1:40:29.1  
65. 111 N2 H. Kato J Honda Civic 3 Door Sir 1:46:59.5 0:40
66. 93 N4 Y. Matsui J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 1:47:24.8 1:40
67. 106 N3 M. Nakanishi J Honda Integra Type-r 1:47:55.4  
68. 100 A5 T. Hiratsuka J Daihatsu Sirion / Boon 1:50:15.0  
69. 110 A7 H. Sudoh J Honda Civic Type R 2:14:20.4 0:10
70. 101 A7 M. Sugiyama J Toyota Run X RSi 2:15:01.1 2:10
71. 113 N1 M. Ogura J Daihatsu Sirion / Boon 2:15:47.2  
72. 115 N4 Y. Fukuzawa J Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 2:25:43.5 1:20
73. 116 N2 K. Ohkura J Suzuki Ignis Sport 2:55:58.5 5:10
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