Petter Solberg loves the gravel and Subaru seems to love Japan. It’s the perfect combination for Rally Japan domination and dominate is exactly what Solberg did on Leg Two of Rally Japan.
The Norwegian set the fastest stage time on all but three of today’s stages and Loeb was unable to match the pace. Loeb – dubbed a specialist on asphalt – struggled with the loose gravel of today’s stages and felt he was clearing the way for those behind him.
“I don’t know what is happening. The surface seems different, more slippery,” he commented. “I don’t have full confidence in my car.”
In contrast, Solberg seemed to be at home on the slippery surfaces. He was happy with his car, and even when he wasn’t happy with his driving, his stage times told a different story. The Subaru driver, who established his lead early on yesterday’s stages, also has the advantage of driving after his rival, and is using the split times to determine how much to push and when he can afford to back off.
As a result, his lead has grown progressively over today’s stages and Loeb now feels that Solberg is uncatchable with a 1:08.9 second lead.
Markko Martin lies third outright after a series of consistent stage times. While he feels he is finally getting into the rhythm of the rally but admits that tomorrow could be challenging. Leg Three totals more than 100 kilometres and Markko lies 32.4 seconds behind Loeb, and only 26 seconds in front of Carlos Sainz.
Sainz and Martin benefited from the troubles in the Peugeot camp. Marcus Gronholm struggled with tyre choice and had problems with his clutch. As a result he inadvertently jumped the start on one stage, and incurred a ten second penalty. His teammate, Harri Rovanpera, lies in eighth after a day plagued with the same gearbox problems as yesterday.
Karamjit Singh leads the FIA Asia Pacific Championship drivers while Armin Kremer, the current leader in the A-Pac standings, lies in fourth. Chris Atkinson was poised to lead but an unfortunate spin saw him drop to third place. He lies only 3.2 seconds behind Katsuhiko Taguchi. Atkinson suffers from no mechanical problems and his storming stage times today could indicate a charge to take back the lead tomorrow.
Leaderboard after Leg 2
1. P Solberg/P Mills Subaru Impreza 2hr 38min 31.6sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena Citroen Xsara 2hr 39min 40.8sec
3. M Märtin/M Park Ford Focus RS 2hr 40min 11.9sec
4. C Sainz/M Marti Citroen Xsara 2hr 40min 37.8sec
5. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen Peugeot 307 2hr 40min 49.4sec
6. F Duval/P Droeven Ford Focus RS 2hr 40min 58.0sec
7. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen Subaru Impreza 2hr 42min 38.9sec
8. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen Peugeot 307 2hr 43min 52.0sec
9. A Warmbold/G Price Ford Focus RS 2hr 51min 48.2sec
10 T Arai/T Sircombe Subaru Impreza 2hr 52min 09.5sec