BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen came through to take the honours on the Pioneer Rally Japan today, although the final leg was no formality, with bad weather making conditions extremely tough.

Hirvonen, who led the penultimate round in this year's World Rally Championship from the off, saw his lead cut back from 15.5 seconds to 4.9 following the first loop on Sunday.

However he extended his cushion over his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in SS26 and SS27 and with heavy rain continuing to make the tests extremely slippery and water logged, his compatriot opted for caution.

In the end Mikko won by 31.1 seconds. It was his third win of the season following earlier triumphs in Jordan and Turkey.

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, with just December's season ending Wales Rally GB to come.

While Ford had that satisfaction though, Citroen had just as much to be happy about. Indeed with Sebastien Loeb finishing third, after pacing himself throughout, the Frenchman secured his fifth world title - something never before achieved in the history of the WRC.

He had a scare in the penultimate test, when he spun near the finish of SS28 and had to reverse. But that couldn't stop him and he easily finished ahead of Subaru's Chris Atkinson in fourth - the two split by over a minute post-SS29.

Per-Gunnar Andersson and Toni Gardemeister completed the top six, to give Suzuki a great result on its first home event with the SX4 WRC. In fact it is the team's best result this season.

Matthew Wilson was next up, while Petter Solberg, who re-started under the SupeRally on day three, charged back up the order and took the final drivers' point, overhauling Federico Villagra in SS27.

Juho Hanninen took the final spot in the top ten and won the Production Car World Rally Championship category. Hanninen snatched the P-WRC victory in the final stage, when Evgeny Novikov was slowed by a technical issue. Novikov, who had led the class pretty much throughout, had to console himself with second, while Toshi Arai was third.

In terms of retirements Stobart Ford's Francois Duval, Munchi's Ford man Henning Solberg and Citroen's Dani Sordo were the main casualties.

Duval crashed out on day 1 in SS6 - an incident that has left his co-driver, Patrick Pivato in hospital - while Henning slide off the road in SS23.

Sordo, who was forced out on day 1 with a turbo problem, was tenth at the end of SS29, but he was withdrawn prior to the finish so that he can use a new engine on Wales Rally GB.

Full report and result to follow...



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