Japan - Mitsubishi Motor Sports - Finish
Gabriel Pozzo completed a confident victory on last week-end's Rally Japan in Obihiro. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver's success keeps him in the thick of the fight for this year's Production Car World Rally Championship title.
the Argentinian's win there was a further demonstration of the performance of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX with the exceptional drive of Katsuhiko Taguchi, who finished eighth overall to win the Group N category and claim the final point in the overall FIA World Rally Championship.
Starting the day with almost two minutes in hand over his nearest Production Car WRC rival, Pozzo was determined not to take any chances over the final seven stages of the rally. The conditions helped him, with the rain which had fallen earlier in the weekend being replaced by sunshine for the final leg. Despite the return to dry weather, however, there were still damp patches lurking beneath the trees in the twisty and technical forest roads north of Obihiro.
Pozzo's only trouble on the final day was getting his tire selection right. "It's been good today," he said at the finish. "We got our decision on which tires to allocate for this rally right. That was very important, when the surface and grip level is changing as much as it was on this event, you need to be confident in the tire. I am also really happy for the whole of the Tango Rally Team. We have built this team in the last year and a half and to come to Japan and win for Mitsubishi is a very important result."
"I am very happy. I'm not going to think about the championship now, though. I am going to focus on winning each of the two rallies, that's all I can do.
Having not won a round of the championship since 2004, it's just nice for me to be in the position to do this again," Pozzo declared.
There was more than just his 10 Production Car WRC points to celebrate, as Pozzo also claimed a top 10 position in the overall World Rally Championship standings. He ended the event one place behind Taguchi, who took his first ever WRC class win.
Taguchi's approach to the final day on Hokkaido was similar to that of Pozzo, with the Japanese driver unwilling to risk his result by driving flat out. He did, however, manage to set the fastest time on the first stage of the day.
Taguchi said: "I pushed a little bit this morning, just to make sure of my pace. I wanted to have a look and see what Pozzo was doing. When I saw that he was watching the PWRC runners behind him, then I was happy to lift off and get to the finish. In a way, I am quite sad this was the way we had to drive today. The roads, particularly in Panke Nikorpet and Penke – where the surface was harder, were very good. They would have been great stages to race on. Never mind, I don't mind so much, because I have achieved this result – which is incredible for me, my co-driver Mark Stacey and all of the people in my team, the corporate sponsors and everybody in Mitsubshi. The car was perfect and we had no punctures. A great rally!"
The final leg offered another positive demonstration of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution's ability on the dirt, with the showroom car only being beaten on one out of seven stages.
Japan's Masayuki Ishida ensured the Lancer Evolution took three out of the top three places in Group N on this most testing of rallies. Ishida, like his compatriots, enjoyed a trouble-free run.
Further down the leaderboard, Mark Higgins of Great Britain collected fifth position despite driving with a fractured collarbone after crashing his motorbike prior to the event. Higgins is the only driver other than Pozzo and Toshi Arai who can win the Production title this year.
"I'm very happy to take this fight to the final round," said Higgins. "It's been a really tough rally for me – with my shoulder giving me a lot of pain. One of the important things has been how easy the Mitsubishi has been to drive with my injury."
The next round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship is Rally Ireland, November 15-18.
Source Mitsubishi Motor Sports