The FIA World Rally Championship heads to the Far East for the eleventh of the 16-round series.
The FIA World Rally Championship heads to the Far East for the eleventh of the 16-round series. Rally Japan, the Subaru World Rally Team's home event, is based in the city of Obihiro on Hokkaido, the most northerly of Japan's islands, and takes place from 1 to 3 September. As the only round of the WRC to take place in Asia, Rally Japan usually attracts hundreds of thousands of fans from all over the continent. Last year over 200,000 people attended the three days of competition, while the ceremonial start alone drew 52,000 spectators.
Rally Japan is a highly technical event with narrow, loose gravel stages which run through dense woodland on the edge of the vast Tokachi plain that stretches inland from the Pacific Ocean. Each Leg will be a grueling test for crews with up to 10 stages per day, ranging from short, twisty 3km sprints to fast, flowing roads more than 34km long. With stages separated by long liaison sections, drivers can be on the road for over 12 hours a day.
Changeable weather is as much a feature of Rally Japan as the long days. Although Obihiro is protected by two mountain ranges, it lies in the path of Pacific weather systems which bring high winds and torrential rain to the island. This year's rally takes place in the height of the typhoon season and it's highly likely that heavy showers will fall each day, leaving the soft ground saturated with water. With some stages used four times, the roads will become heavily rutted as more cars drive through.
This year, the route features 27 stages, one more than in 2005. Changes for this year include a new Superspecial on the edge of the service park that will be used five times during the rally and once as the shakedown stage, while the mammoth 50km Kunneywa-Niueo stage has been broken into three shorter stages. After a ceremonial start in central Obihiro on Thursday night, the first competitive stage of the rally begins at 0803hrs on Friday 1 September. The podium finish is scheduled for 1500hrs at the Kita Aikoku service park six kilometres south of Obihiro.
BP-Ford will use BFGoodrich's g-Force low wear gravel tyres and teams are only allowed to nominate one tread pattern this year. The pattern is relatively compact to ensure a maximum amount of rubber is in contact with the ground for the best possible grip and traction. The grooves can be hand cut to open them if there is a lot of loose gravel on the road surface or if the tracks become muddy. The tyres are available in soft, medium and hard compounds.
No rest for SWRT drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson who went directly from Finland to Sardinia for a four-day development test. Petter drove for two days while Chris followed the test as an observer. The two will fly to Japan on Saturday 26 August to attend a press conference in Tokyo on Monday 28 August. Third driver for the team is Japan's PWRC 2005 Champion Toshi Arai.