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Japanese rally fans - once bitten, not shy...
Celebrations this evening in Obihiro
The saying might be once bitten twice shy but for spectators at Rally Japan the opposite was true as over 55,000 people - 3,000 more than last year - turned up to see all 90 competitors take the start ramp in central Obihiro tonight (Thursday,
29 September).
Starting the process was a traditional mikoshi - a portable shrine that is the vehicle of divine spirits - borne on wooden poles and carried by a chanting team of 30 people. But the spirits inside other vehicles caught the hearts of the rally fans as local favourites and Production Cup cars were waved off by the Japanese flag.
The best was saved for last, with the top cars proceeding over the start ramp in reverse order, raising cheers from the crowd when their favourites stopped to wave and address them.
Spectacular light shows sent each car off with great fanfare but the night was not without its quiet moments. Before the first car took the start ramp, Michael 'Beef' Park was remembered when the flags in the start area and the rally headquarters were raised from half mast as a military band played the Japanese national anthem.
In a press conference earlier today, Peugeot team manager, Jean Pierre Nicolas, said that it was essential that Park be remembered but that rallying continued.
Last over the ramp was reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb, who is poised to claim another World Rally Championship title if he finishes third or higher at this event.
The competitive rally action takes place tomorrow, Friday 30th September with 163 kilometres of special stages north east of Obihiro. Spectators can also get close to the action at the service park located only 15 minutes south of Obihiro city centre.
Press release Rally Japan

     Warmbold highly motivated after strong shakedown time
     Ready for action on home territory
     Thirty-six Mitsubishi crews head to Rally Japan
     Flags at half-mast at the rally's headquarters
     Suzuki Swift in action on home ground
     Loeb needs just six points
     Interview with Sebastien Loeb
     On the technical front with Michelin
     Ford decide to make no comments
     Interview with Guy Frequelin

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