01 Nov 08
Sebastien Loeb took his second stage win of the 2008 Rally Japan on SS15, the 2.30km spectator stage which followed the mid-point service.
Loeb stopped the clock three-tenths of a second quicker than Munchi’s Ford team driver Henning Solberg who was his closest challenger.
SS15 was the first of Saturday’s repeated loop of stages and the soft, gravel surface had deteriorated significantly since it was run for the first time as SS11. Deep ruts and exposed rocks were a new and potentially hazardous feature of the test, which will be driven for a third time on Sunday.
Jari-Matti Latvala was the first driver to experience problems - crossing the finish line with a left-hand front puncture on his Ford Focus. “I felt something wasn’t right,” he said. “I only have one spare tyre so I’ll have to take it carefully through the next few stages.”
Petter Solberg picked up a right-hand front puncture. “It was very rutted in there, but a bit drier than the first pass,” he said. But Solberg’s team-mate at the Subaru World Rally Team Chris Atkinson warned that road conditions could cause more serious problems. “The ruts are very deep and you’ve got to be very careful, you could easily roll a car in there,” he said.
While the cars of Hirvonen, Latvala and Petter Solberg are equipped with just one spare tyre Sebastien Loeb’s Citroen is carrying two. “We try and play things as safe as possible,” said the Frenchman.