Flodin is bidding to return to the lead of the P-WRC and victory in Japan would be enough to push him ahead of defending champion, Mitsubishi driver Armindo Araujo, who has chosen to skip this round.
Flodin’s task was made slightly easier on the second stage this morning when Toshi Arai crashed out of the rally. Flodin then reeled off the fastest times to build a lead of two minutes over second placed man Hayden Paddon.
Arai led from the start and pulled 11.3 seconds out of everybody on the 27-kilometre Iwanke stage, the event’s first significant test. Unfortunately for the double Production Car champion, everything went wrong on a series of three jumps in a fast section of the Sikot stage. The car landed awkwardly after the second jump and turned into the trees at high speed. The Impreza collided with a tree and rolled three times. Both crew emerged unscathed but Arai went to hospital for a back x-ray, but was discharged earlier this evening.
After tweaking his Impreza’s suspension after the first stage, Flodin settled into a day of driving sensibly. He’d taken 28.6 seconds out of Paddon in SS3 and then cemented that lead by taking more than half a minute out of the rest of the field in the next stage. “It’s been a good day,” said the leader. “The car is driving nicely now and we have a big lead. The tough part is keeping the lead for the next two days. But today has been okay.”
Paddon was pleased with second place on his first trip to Japan, although he admitted the soft surface was causing him some concerns. “The ruts make it quite difficult,” he said. “The car moves around a lot in them, but we’ve made some changes to the car and that seems to work. I need to keep this position until the finish, this would be good for the championship for me.”
While Paddon might not have rated his chances of catching or troubling Flodin, he was three times as safe from the cars chasing him - he held a six-minute lead over the third placed driver Paulo Nobre. There was no such luxury for Brazilian Nobre as his Mitsubishi was being harried by the similar motor of former Champ Car race winner Michael Jourdain, who admitted he’d struggled through the day.
Subaru’s Gianluca Linari was fifth and equally troubled by the Hokkaido roads. “The special stages have been very tough for me,” he said.
"The tough part is keeping the lead for the next two days. But today has been okay"