MRF Tyres driver Katsu Taguchi has upstaged the cream of the Production World Rally Championship field to complete Rally Japan as the production car home, his 8th place earning him the final WRC driver point.
Katsu drove faultlessly all weekend, leading the Group-N field from start to finish, with only the more powerful WRC cars able to beat him in the changeable conditions.
Friday’s eight stages were run in fog, bright sunshine and then heavy rain later in the day. But Katsu put his local knowledge to great use, extending his lead as the conditions worsened. “I’m really happy with everything,” said Taguchi. “The car is working very well, we haven’t had any problems at all. The roads are getting quite rough in places, but nothing we can’t cope with”.
Underscoring just how treacherous the conditions were, the attrition rate in the WRC field was high, with high profile drivers like Sebastien Loeb, Marcus Gronholm, Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson and Jari-Matti Latvala all retiring during the event.
Even Katsu’s long-time co-driver, Mark Stacey, was impressed at the Japanese veterans performance. “Katsu has been amazing…totally in control in the mud, knowing just where to find the grip. This is the kind of performance Katsu has been promising for a long time.”
Finishing day one in 11th place and more than 30 seconds ahead of PWRC regular Fumio Nutahara, Katsu pushed further ahead on day two, leading Gabriel Pozzo by nearly a minute and jumping into 8th place.
Katsu drove conservatively on the final day to claim the final WRC drivers point, Pozzo making up some time late in the event, but never coming within a minute of the APRC regular.
“I pushed a little bit this morning, just to make sure of my pace. When I saw that he (Pozzo) 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. Nevermind, I don’t mind so much, because I have achieved this result – which is incredible for me, my co-driver Mark Stacey (Australia) 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!”
It was less happy rally for Subaru’s Toshi Arai. A first or second place in the PWRC drivers would have wrapped up another title for Arai and Tony Sirrcombe. But things started to go wrong on stage seven, his Subaru running off the road and bringing his day to an early end. He was able to restart on leg 2, but lost further time thanks to five punctures throughout the event.
Toshi did make it to the end of the event, scoring top-10 stages time along the way. But the time lost was too great to score any additional championship points. Having completed his six nominated events, Toshi will have to wait for rallies Ireland and Wales. If Pozzo can score an additional 18 points, he’ll take the 2007 Group N championship.
Photos courtesy of Linear Photographs and Mitsubishi Motorsport.