Gronholm steals win as Loeb takes title.

Marcus Gronholm took victory on Rally Japan when long time leader Petter Solberg retired on the final day, while second place was good enough to make Sebastien Loeb the 2005 World Rally Champion.

Solberg had looked set to wrap up a second straight Rally Japan victory when he held a lead of over half a minute heading into Sunday's final leg although first blood on the final morning went to Gronholm who went fastest on the opening stage of the morning. However with Solberg close behind, the Subaru man maintained a healthy lead.

Although neither driver was quickest on SS23, that honour shared by Loeb and Chris Atkinson, Gronholm took eight seconds out of Solbergs advantage as the drivers headed into the short Super Special stage for the final time. With the two split by just 0.2 second through the 2.1km stage, Solberg had an advantage of 22.3 seconds as the battle headed into the final two stages, which were a repeat of the opening stages of the morning.

However SS25, the penultimate stage of the event, proved to be Solberg's downfall as the Norwegian hit a rock midway through the stage, damaging the steering on his Impreza and putting him out of the rally. That left Gronholm with a comfortable lead over Loeb, which he maintained with the fastest time on both of the final two stages to secure victory – his second win of the season after victory on Rally Finland.

Solberg's retirement only confirmed what was expected from Loeb on the final leg as the Frenchman brought his Citroen home through the final five stages to take the podium finish he needed to retain his drivers' title, while Chris Atkinson gave Subaru some reason to smile by securing his first WRC podium finish in third.

The Australian started the day sixth, behind both Gigi Galli and Harri Rovanpera but was able to take advantage of problems for both Mitsubishi drivers on the opening two stages of the day. First to hit problems was Rovanpera, who saw the engine on his Lancer cut out SS22 as he dropped over 30 seconds to fall to seventh, while Galli was forced out of the event at the end of SS23 after damaging his suspension, bringing a disappointing end to what had been a promising display for the Italian. Rovanpera's problems also allowed Francois Duval to secure fourth place, with the Finn taking fifth and left to rue what could well have been a home podium for the Mitsubishi team on its debut in the event.

Ford's Toni Gardemeister extended his lead over team-mate Roman Kresta throughout the day to secure sixth place, with Kresta a minute behind at the end in a lonely seventh and Daniel Carlsson taking the final points scoring position. Privateer Ford driver Antony Warmbold and Skoda's Armin Schwarz completed the top ten.

In the Production Car World Rally Championship, Toshi Arai took full advantage of his commanding overnight lead to secure victory, with countryman Fumio Nutahara second and Aki Teiskonen third.

Related Pictures

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