Japan - Subaru World Rally Team - Day Three
The final day of Rally Japan was by far the most treacherous as torrential rain hit the stages, creating rivers that flooded the roads, huge ruts in the thick mud that bounced rally cars left and right, and very little traction.
this, Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot performed solidly to clinch fourth position overall, whilst teammates Petter Solberg and Phil Mills won a further three stages on their comeback after Saturday's retirement.
"Today has been especially challenging with some of the most difficult conditions we've seen on a WRC event for many years," said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "We have won four stages this weekend on home soil, and clearly demonstrated a good step forward in performance. This will stand us in good stead as we head for the final round of the championship in GB at the start of December."
As the skies clouded, the light faded in the already dark stages. The deluge caused the windscreens of many cars to fog up, significantly reducing visibility and adding to the already perilous nature of the stages.
Atkinson survived the conditions unscathed, consolidating his fourth position overall. With a comfortable gap behind and too far behind Citroen's Sebastien Loeb
to fight for third, he was nevertheless unable to drop his guard for even a moment as the conditions waited to strike. His result means he retains fourth position overall in the championship standings with one round to go.
"The conditions were very tricky today and we just focused on maintaining our place," said Chris Atkinson. "There was no need to push for position; we had two minutes behind us and a minute and a half in front after the morning so there was no need to do anything silly, but it was still so easy to make a mistake as it's so slippery with full rain and mud. The top three had no problems, so that's the best we could do."
"It's been a tricky weekend for everyone as the conditions were really difficult with a lot of rain and a lot of water standing in the road, and even at the pace we were going it was difficult to keep the car on the road. We were aquaplaning everywhere so it's good to get through and to finish the rally," Atkinson added.
After a fantastic effort by the team to repair the number five Impreza overnight, Solberg and Mills restarted in style with their second stage victory on this rally. The duo were unfortunate to suffer a cracked exhaust manifold in stage 23 which robbed them of engine power on the longest test of the day, but a great performance by the team repaired the car during the midday service to allow the duo to take a double win on the last two stages to propel themselves to eighth position.
"I must say that we and Subaru have done a very good job and I'm very happy with my performance on Saturday and Sunday. We have improved the speed quite a lot and we have many stage wins and that's very important," said Petter Solberg. "There really are a lot of good things to come from this rally and we need to continue to work with the car from exactly where it is now."
"Today was so difficult in the conditions. We had a few problems like a puncture and the screen fully blocked with fog on the long stage in the morning (SS23) so I think we could have won a few more stages actually," he pointed out.
"I've enjoyed coming back again today, and the team did a very good job to get the car ready and I'm very proud of them," underlined Solberg. "If I'm fourth, or fifth, or sixth, for me, honestly it doesn't matter. The main thing here is that we get the car faster and get back to the top and to fight for a win again. That's absolutely the main thing."
After the cold of Japan, the final round of the 2008 World Rally Championship in Wales will be no different. Wales Rally GB runs from 4–7 December, during which the challenging gravel roads will be made tougher by ice and fog. The rally is again split with Rally HQ based within Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and the service park based in Swansea's SA1 waterfront development.
For the first time in eight years, Friday's stages venture into mid-Wales through Brecon and north towards Aberystwyth. The rally visits Cardiff three times, for the ceremonial start and finish, and Saturday's spectator stage within the Millennium Stadium.
The team has a strong record in Wales, co-driver Phil Mills' home event, and support is always strong for the Welshman. The rally comprises 19 stages totalling 353.92 competitive kilometres.