3 September 2006
Loeb secures record 27th win in Japan.
Two-time world rally champion, Sebastien Loeb won the Rally Japan on Sunday - and in the process he secured his 27th WRC victory, to become the most successful driver in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Loeb's win, his first in Japan, now means he holds the all-time victory record, one better than his former Citroen team-mate, Carlos Sainz, who he equalled last month on the Rallye Deutschland.
The Frenchman's latest success though didn't come easy and Marcus Gronholm certainly made him work for it.
Loeb took the lead on day two, after Gronholm made a mistake in SS14. The Kronos Citroen ace ended proceedings on Saturday with a 25.6 second cushion – seemingly in a comfortable position. However Gronholm, as he promised, didn't give up and the Finn slashed that margin to 5.6 seconds at the finish, making Seb push all the way to the very end.
Loeb though held on and his victory, his seventh of the season, moved him ever closer to his third world title, increasing his margin over Gronholm from 31 points to 33, with five rounds to go.
Gronholm meanwhile for once, wasn't overly disappointed with second, although he was somewhat annoyed that his errors on Saturday morning had cost him the win – in total he lost 20 seconds with his spin in SS14 and then lost another 10 with another mistake in SS15. The Finn though enjoyed the battle and overall he took 15 stages wins out of a possible 27, while Seb took 'only' 11.
Gronholm's BP Ford team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen took the final podium place, over 2.5 minutes off the top two, but comfortably ahead of Aussie Chris Atkinson, who was fourth and a further 3 minutes further back - the best of the trio of works Subaru Impreza's.
Hirvonen settled into third pretty much from the off and was never really challenged. Despite that though he set a string of competitive times and was more often than not the best after the leading two, he even ended the rally on a high, by taking the stage win in the final blast around the Obihiro super special, which brought the event to a close.
Atkinson ended day one in sixth, after he was slowed by technical problems, picking up a 50 second penalty after leaving the first service late, when his mechanics had to fit a new suspension component. He put in a charge on day two and despite a moment in SS14, when he slightly re-modelled part of his Impreza, he overhauled Manfred Stohl and Daniel Sordo and ended the day in fourth. The Aussie eventually brought his car home on Sunday a minute or so ahead of Stohl, who took fifth.
Stohl enjoyed a pretty uneventful first outing in Japan and was well placed to score solid points in his OMV Peugeot throughout. He had the odd issue but nothing serious and therefore scooped four drivers' points for his trouble.
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