5th Rally Japan - An opportunity for Citroën, Loeb and Elena to seize in Japan
Citroen Total has entered the 2008 Rally Japan – the penultimate round of this year's 15-round World Rally Championship – with C4 WRCs for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti. The team's trip to the land of the rising sun could prove decisive in both title chases, since Citroen has an arithmetical possibility of clinching one or possibly even both of this year's world crowns. Conrad Rautenbach/David Senior are also entered for the Rally Japan in a C4 WRC. Their car is prepared and run by PH Sport with the support of technicians from Citroen Sport Technologies.
Although this year's Japanese round is once again organised on the country's northernmost island, Hokkaido, the 2008 Rally Japan is actually a new event following a switch to the Sapporo region. That said, the format of the newcomer will be essentially similar to that of its predecessor, with a total route length of 1,314.62km and a high number of stages (29!) for a total competitive distance of 343.28km. The menu features 12 different tests which tend to be relatively short, ranging from the 2.57km Imeru stage to the longest of the weekend, Kamuycep (33.66km). The chief difference compared with 2007, however, concerns the significantly shorter road sections…
"That's great news," says Sebastien Loeb. "Having to drive for more than an hour to reach the stages wasn't fun, and it made the day extremely long. The new format is much more in keeping with what we are accustomed to and we will be able to get in more sleep than has ever been the case in Japan until now!"
The situation in both championship fights is clear-cut: Sebastien and Daniel are 14 points clear of their sole challenger in the Drivers' standings. If the gap is at least 10 points after the finish of the Rally Japan, the crown will be theirs for the fifth consecutive year. In the battle for Manufacturers' honours, Citroen currently enjoys a cushion of 23 points. If the gap is 18 points or more on Sunday afternoon, then the Makes title will go to the French outfit for the fourth time. Neither of these two scenarios is out of the question, but nothing is by any means a foregone conclusion.
"The Rally Japan has always been a particularly complex event," warns Seb. "The first time we did the recce, we wondered whether in fact it was possible to stay on the road for three days! The stages of the Obihiro-based rally were fast, narrow and difficult to commit to memory, and there was always a chance you could be caught out by one of the innumerable changes in grip. Moving to another region probably won't make matters any easier. Contesting a new event with the title at stake only adds to the stress, although it's not the first time we have faced this situation. We are also aware of how competitive our C4 is, and we will still have the Wales Rally GB to come afterwards. That takes away some of the pressure, but our objective will be to try to sew up the championship in Japan."
"If our rivals win," continues the Alsace-born driver, "we will need to come away with at least six points. That means finishing in third place and we will start with that in mind and see how things unfold. We will always have the possibility of adjusting our pace to ensure we stay concentrated and don't make any mistakes. I would like to wrap up the title in Japan so that we can focus our attention on winning when we go to Wales."
In their bid to secure the world crown, Sebastien and Daniel know that they can count on the support of Dani Sordo and Marc Marti. "We have put our off in Corsica behind us," says Dani. "I made a mistake and there's no point in dwelling on it. I prefer to look ahead. I only contested the Obihiro-based Rally Japan twice and I'm not against the switch to Sapporo, although I'm not expecting our task to be any easier this time round. Once again, tyres promise to play a big role. If the conditions are damp, our Pirelli Softs should go well. If the going is dry, however, we will need to take care with them. It will also be important to take good notes. The switch to a new region will level the playing field and I am encouraged by our recent runs on the loose compared with the drivers who are known to be quick on gravel. It's now up to me to try to catch them. It won't be simple, but we will try to find a fast but safe pace. If we succeed, we should be able to secure a good result to score the points Citroen needs in the Manufacturers' championship."
Event notes: 2008 RALLY JAPAN
5th Rally Japan (October 30-November 2), round 14 of 15
Practical information: The service park, press office, event HQ and super-special are all based in the Sapporo Dome, the city's baseball stadium. The time difference between Japan (UTC+9) and continental Europe is seven hours. When it is 1pm in Paris it is 8pm in Sapporo. The local currency is the Yen (JPY1,000 = €7.2).
Technical matters: Japan is linked with New Zealand regarding the chassis/engine package. The chassis and engines that will compete in Japan are therefore identical to those seen in Hamilton. The same engine will also have to contest the Wales Rally GB. Two gearbox/differential packages are authorised per driver. Five sets of dampers and five hub carriers are authorised per event.
Tyres: only one type of tyre is available: the Pirelli Scorpion WRC 205/65R15 Soft. It is possible to carry two spares, but the 're-cutting' of tread patterns is not permitted. 42 tyres may be used during the event (including shakedown).
Recce: Tuesday October 28 and Wednesday October 29 (08.00 until 18.00). Two runs authorised at a maximum speed of 60kph. Shakedown: Thursday October 30 (08.00 until 12.00). The 1.49km test stage is in fact the Sapporo Dome super-special which runs adjacent to the service park (two consecutive passes).
Press conference: Thursday October 30 (from 13.30), press office, Sapporo Dome.
Autograph-signing session: Thursday October 30 (from 16.00), Sapporo Dome.
Start ceremony: Thursday October 30 (from 19.30), Sapporo Dome.
Route: the total distance is 1,314.62km, including 343.28km divided into 29 stages (12 different).
Day 1 (Friday October 31): 498.02km, including 90.42km divided into 10 stages (5 different). Starts from service park at 08.00. SS1 (Heper 1, 13.24km), SS2 (Yuparo 1, 11.10km), SS3 (Isepo 1, 13.67km) and SS4 (Pipaoi 1, 5.74km). Regroup (12.27, 20 minutes). Service A (12.47, 30 minutes). SS5 (Heper 2), SS6 (Yuparo 2), SS7 (Isepo 2) and SS8 (Pipaoi 2). Regroup (17.44, 20 minutes). SS9 (Sapporo 1, 1.46km) and SS10 (Sapporo 2). Service B (18.37, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 23.00.
Day 2 (Saturday November 1): 467.98km, including 156.72km divided into 10 stages (5 different). Cars leave parc ferme for Service C (07.30, 15 minutes). SS11 (Imeru 1, 2.57km), SS12 (Nikara 1, 31.12km), SS13 (Kamuycep 1, 33.66km) and SS14 (Kina 1, 9.55km). Regroup (12.17, 20 minutes). Service D (12.37, 30 minutes). SS15 (Imeru 2), SS16 (Nikara 2), SS17 (Kamuycep 2) and SS18 (Kina 2). Regroup (17.39, 20 minutes). SS19 (Sapporo 3) and SS20 (Sapporo 4). Service E (18.32, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 23.00.
Day 3 (Sunday November 2): 348.62km, including 96.14km divided into 9 stages (5 different). Cars leave parc ferme for Service F (06.00, 15 minutes). SS21 (Nidom 1, 3.44km), SS22 (Iwanke 1, 13.57km), SS23 (Sikot 1, 27.76km) and SS24 (Imeru 3, 2.57km). Regroup (09.35, 20 minutes). SS25 (Sapporo 5, 1.46km). Regroup (10.16, 20 minutes). Service G (10.36, 30 minutes). SS26 (Nidom 2), SS27 (Iwanke 2), SS28 (Sikot 2) and SS29 (Imeru 4). Service H (14.28, 10 minutes). Podium (from 15.00).
Podium ceremony: Sunday November 2 (from 15.00), Sapporo Dome.
Post-rally press conference: Sunday November 2 (from 16.00), press office, Sapporo Dome.
New: this is an all-new event based in Sapporo, in the Do-oh region.
Citroen and the Rally Japan: 1 win: 2006 (Loeb/Elena, Xsara).
The crews statistics (before this rally): Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: WRC debut: Catalonia, 1999 (Saxo Kit-Car, retired). WRC starts: 111. First WRC win: Germany, 2002 (Xsara). WRC wins: 46. WRC world titles: 4 (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007).
Dani Sordo: WRC debut: Catalonia, 2003 (18th). WRC starts: 57. Junior title: 2005 (C2 S1600). Marc Marti: WRC debut: Catalonia, 1992 (21st). WRC starts: 123. Junior title: 2005 (C2 S1600).
The crews' Rally Japan records: Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: fifth participation: 2007 (C4, retired), 2006 (Xsara, 1st), 2005 (Xsara, 2nd), and 2004 (Xsara, 2nd).
Dani Sordo: third participation: 2007 (with Marc Marti/C4, 2nd) and 2006 (with Marc Marti/Xsara, retired).
Marc Marti: fourth participation: 2007 (with Dani Sordo/C4, 2nd), 2006 (with Dani Sordo/Xsara, retired) and 2004 (with Carlos Sainz/Xsara, 5th).
Conrad Rautenbach/David Senior will drive a privately-entered Citroen C4 WRC prepared and run by PH Sport with the support of technicians from Citroen Sport Technologies.