Japan - day 3: Mikko wins event, Loeb takes title.

Mikko Hirvonen led the Rally Japan from start-to-finish this weekend, but while he took the maximum haul it wasn't sufficient to keep his title dream alive and with Sebastien Loeb finishing third, the Frenchman becomes the first ever driver to win the WRC crown five times.

Hirvonen powered into the lead on the opening stage on Friday and while the first day was heavily truncated - four tests were cancelled, two as a result of snow and two following an accident - the 28-year-old managed to build a good cushion. Indeed he won six of the day's seven tests and ended proceedings 26.2 seconds up on his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala.

Saturday saw the two Fords maintain their one-two formation, although in the first loop Jari-Matti did cut the gap back to 16.9 seconds. However, in the afternoon Hirvonen re-asserted his authority somewhat.

Going into the final leg he enjoyed a 15.5 second lead and while that was reduced to just 4.9 seconds post-SS25, the pendulum swung back the other way in the final loop.

Mikko thus finished the event, which was one of the most challenging of the season - especially on the Sunday as torrential rain made conditions treacherous, 31.1 seconds up on Latvala.

It was second win in succession in Japan and his third of the season following earlier triumphs in Jordan and Turkey.

"I'm delighted with the win but at the same time disappointed that my hopes of the drivers' title are over,” Hirvonen reflected. “We did all we could but it wasn't enough to prevent Sébastien Loeb winning the title, which he richly deserves, and I congratulate him.”

Latvala meanwhile was second and that ensured Ford took the maximum 18-points, something that allows the 'Blue Oval' to close the gap on Citroen in the manufacturers' race - the margin coming down from 23 points to 11.

Jari-Matti took three stages win in total and as it was his first podium since the Rally of Turkey back in June, he was over-the-moon.

"It feels fantastic to take a top three finish on gravel again. After a bad August this is my third strong rally and I really wanted this result,” he stated. “The conditions were probably the worst I've seen and I can't explain how much water there was in the forests. We seemed to be aquaplaning all the time.”

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07
Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07
Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC 07
Alexey Lukyanuk - Ford Fiesta R5
Alexey Lukyanuk - Ford Fiesta R5
Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA) - Vincent Landais (FRA) Citroen DS3 R5
Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA) - Vincent Landais (FRA) Citroen DS3 R5
Karl Kruuda (EST) - Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta R5, Drive Dmack Trophy Team
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Essapeka Lappi (FIN) Janne Ferm (FIN), Skoda Fabia R5 WRC2, Skoda Motorsport
Quentin Gilbert  (FRA) - Renaud Jamoul (BEL) Citroen DS3 R5
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)-Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, FWRT
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)-Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, FWRT
Teemu Suninen (FIN) - Mikko Markkula (FIN) Skoda Fabia R5, Team Oreca
Nicolás Fuchs (PER) - Fernando Mussano (ARG) Skoda Fabia R5

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