Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally team:

[Francois Duval, car #7 and Matthew Wilson, car #8]

Francois Duval:

"It is not going to be easy for me to go fast from the start in Japan because the last time I was here was three years ago but OK this year the rally is in a new location which means new roads, and pace-notes, for everybody. It took some time for me to find a good setup with the Focus in New Zealand but now I have the gravel kilometres on board from that event we can hopefully transfer the knowledge into speed this week in Japan. There are some big fights for the top places in the championship right now so these guys will be hard to match but hopefully by the end of the rally I will be pushing for a podium like on the last two events in Spain and Corsica."

Matthew Wilson:

"Things are going to be quite interesting this year in Japan coming to a new place where it's new stages and potentially a new surface for everybody. From some pictures I have seen of the roads it looks like they are going to be quite narrow so it could be a challenging event. I'm looking forward to it though, last year we had a clean run and a great result and hopefully we can do the same again this year. Again though it will be a challenge and we are going to have to write fresh pacenotes for all the stages and I think this will be a part of everyone's approach to the rally that is going to be crucial."

Munchi's Ford WRT:

[Federico Villagra, car #9 and Henning Solberg, car #10]

Federico Villagra:

"This is going to be an interesting rally and I prefer lots of smaller stages rather than not so many long ones so for me I think it will help having 29 stages to cover. It is a new rally for everyone which will make things more even but I really don't know what to expect of these conditions because I know nothing about the region. I like to visit Japan, it is a different culture with different things to see and the people there are crazy about rally. Since Spain I have been rallying in Argentina on gravel again so my feeling should be good from the start. Last year I had a very good result here and again this season we will be pushing hard to collect some good points for me and also for the Munchi's team which is still ahead of Suzuki in the Manufacturer Championship."

Henning Solberg:

"I was on the podium in Japan last year and I would love to be on it again in 2008. I like the type of stages there were in Obihiro and I hope these will be similar in Sapporo. Last time I was on gravel was in New Zealand and we won seven stages... that was more than Sebastien and he won the rally! I hope the setup of the Focus from New Zealand will work as well in Japan and then for sure we can be pushing for a podium. Japan is a great place for Rallying, especially all the fans there and last year I discovered Sushi, this is the proper stuff. I will try my best for some good points here because I can still move up a place in the championship and also the Munchi's want to stay in front of Suzuki so I will do my best to help add some good points to their team's tally."

Suzuki WRT:

[Toni Gardemeister, car #11 and Per-Gunnar Andersson, car #12]

Toni Gardemeister:

"Japan is a really difficult rally as it is so easy to make a mistake: a fact that many drivers have found out the hard way! I don't really know what it will be like this year though. The key to doing well in Japan is to be very neat and precise, and try to never get off the line. I quite like it, because in some ways this makes it a bit similar to Rally Finland. One big difference though is that the roads are a lot narrower and the grip is much more inconsistent - or at least this was the case when I did Rally Japan in the past."

P-G Andersson:

"I'm really pleased to get back to gravel. It's my favourite surface and I think we can do well in Japan. We've done a lot of work on the SX4 WRC since the start of the year and now I think it is really starting to pay off. The stages in Japan require proper commitment from the driver, particularly under braking, so I think that they should suit us well. After Corsica my confidence is back now, so my target will be to do my very best and try to finish in the points for Suzuki at home."

Production Car WRC:

Round 7 of 8.

Mitsubishi;s Juho Hanninen will have a great chance to take the lead in the battle for the 2008 Production Car World Rally Championship title on the Rally Japan this weekend.

Hanninen currently trails Andreas Aigner by four points, but with the Austrian having not nominated this event, the Finn is determined to take advantage and ideally secure the maximum 10 points.

"Without some of the other drivers here, I have to push for the win," said Juho. "It is a very good opportunity for me. I have done the last two rounds of the WRC in Spain and Corsica, mainly for asphalt experience, but it's also been good for me to keep on driving. Now, though, I want to win in Japan. That's all I'm thinking about. I am happy with the Mitsubishi. It has been solid and reliable this season."

15 regulars from the PWRC have opted to take in this event, and in addition to Hanninen, Toshi Arai, Martin Rauam, Armindo Araujo and Fumio Nutahara should all figure quite strongly.

Indeed Nutahara will debut the latest specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X on his home round.

"I will do my best to meet the expectation," said Fumio. "In the Japan Rally Championship this year, I participate with Evolution X and the development has improved. The Lancer Evolution X comes to PWRC with still more. I think we can show a lot this week."

Katsuhiko Taguchi, who is one of two 'wild card' runners, will also use the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X: "This year my participation is in the PWRC and I hope to have a good result like last year," he added.

"I participate a lot in the development of this new car. It feels good to see the car making its debut at last. Moreover, I'm very confident of the support of the five dealer mechanics chosen from the 4,400 Mitsubishi mechanics to support me in a Mitsubishi Motors dealer team. This is the first time in two years. I am aiming at a good result."

Nine P-WRC regulars meanwhile will skip Japan and as well as Aigner, the likes of Nasser Al-Attiyah, Martin Prokop, Bernardo Sousa, Patrik Sandell and Jari Ketomaa will all be absent - although the latter is taking in the event, but won't be able to score P-WRC points.

Other significant entries:

87 crews due to start.

87 crews are due to start the Rally Japan and while all the manufacturer teams will be in action, there will only be 13 in World Rally Cars, with Conrad Rautenbach the sole semi-privateer entry.

Of the rest, as well as the 17 crews in the P-WRC, another 57 will also take in the round. 42 will compete in Group N cars, including Jari Ketomaa - a regular in the PWRC, but who did not nominate this event to score points on, while seven have entered under the N1 class, one in N3, three in A7, three in A5 and one in A6.


After a ceremonial start in Sapporo Dome on Thursday evening, the rally heads east for stages near the cities of Yubari and Mikasa on the opening day. The long second leg heads south for tests near the coast at Tomakomai and close to Lake Shikotsuko, with the final day in the same area but closer to Tomakomai. The first two legs end with two passes over the super special stage inside the Dome and the test is used for a fifth time midway through the final day. Drivers tackle 29 stages covering 343.69km in a route of 1316.28km.

Last year:

Mikko Hirvonen won the Rally Japan last year after 'big guns' Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm both faltered. Dani Sordo took the runners-up spot, 37.4 seconds further back, while Henning Solberg completed the podium followed by Matt Wilson and Luis-Perez Companc in fourth and fifth. Manfred Stohl, Federico Villagra and Katsuhiko Taguchi rounded out the points scorers.

A number of the front runners had problems and in addition to Loeb and Gronholm, the event also claimed the scalp of Chris Atkinson, while Petter Solberg, Xavier Pons and Jari-Matti Latvala finished under the SupeRally format.



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