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In celebration of the WRC’s return there, here are wrc.com’s top five Rally Japan moments.
1. The first and best
The prospect of victory on Japan’s first WRC round in 2004 was laughable for Petter Solberg a fortnight before the start. Except nobody was laughing. The Norwegian had just emerged from the biggest crash of his career and co-driver Phil Mills was still recovering in hospital. The next rally was Japan and the biggest weekend in Subaru’s history in the sport. Solberg delivered a stunning and unforgettable win with the Impreza WRC (pictured above).
2. The record breaker…
Victory for Sébastien Loeb in 2006 offered the Frenchman the first of many milestones to come in his astonishing career. Bringing his Kronos Racing-run Citroën Xsara WRC home 5.6sec ahead of Marcus Grönholm meant Loeb became the sport’s most successful driver ever. His 27th WRC win moved him one ahead of Carlos Sainz. And if we were looking for a couple more Loeb in Japan moments, we could have picked either of the world titles he secured (2005 and 2008) on Hokkaido.
3. Mikko’s big in Japan
Few drivers loved rallying in Japan as much as Mikko Hirvonen. The friendliest of Finns enjoyed everything about his trips to the Far East. His ability to embrace the culture endeared him to the locals and when he took his first and only victory there in 2007, it was one of the most popular wins of the season. Hirvonen was inspired in the Focus RS, so full of confidence you’d have fancied him to have the edge over Loeb’s C4 even if the Frenchman hadn’t gone off the road.
4. A WRC welcome
Landing in Obihiro for the first time 15 years ago was a huge adventure. Not since 1999 had the WRC been to the Far East, but Japan was a different prospect from Rally China. Japan welcomed the WRC with open arms and the rally took over Tokachi on the island of Hokkaido. From ‘noodle alley,’ where sensational bang-bang chicken was washed down with ice-cold Asahi to charming towns like Rikubetsu (famous for being Japan’s coldest place), the rally was supported like nowhere else by cheering locals.
5. The Dome
When the rally moved south from Obihiro to Sapporo in 2008, it was based out of Sapporo Dome. First opened in 2001, the building (which would become home to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters baseball team) was undoubtedly one of the coolest service parks in WRC history. Even better, it ran as an indoor superspecial and shakedown stage in 2010. Kimi Räikkönen wasn’t such a big fan after the polished floor caught him out and he discovered some of the plastic barriers were, in fact, concrete…
Tomorrow: Central Rally Aichi preview