Juho Hanninen notched up his third win of the season on the Rally Japan last weekend, the seventh and penultimate round in the 2008 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.

Hanninen had an awful start to the event in Sapporo and finished day one down in ninth place, 46.1 seconds off the leader, Evgeniy Novikov. On day two Juho was back on form and he flew through the opening loop, regaining seven places to be second by the mid-day halt. Hanninen though was unable to make up ground on Novikov and the 18-year-old extended his lead further.

19.1 seconds split the two going into the final day and right up until the final stage the Russian look on course - now 26.8 seconds in front - until a suspension problem dropped him back and down to second.

Juho was 'surprised' at the finish to have inherited the win and admitted he was focusing more on Toshi Arai behind him than on Novikov in front. He now goes to Rally GB six points up on Andreas Aigner in the Production standings and favourite to take the crown.

"This victory is remarkable! I was concentrating on fighting Toshi for second place and only after the finish of the stage did I realise that I had won. I was told the news by the reporters, as I was not aware of Novikov's problem. It was a very tough rally, and I was happy to finish second - being first is a bonus and it was bad luck for Novikov," said the Finn.

"I had decided before the rally that I would take it easy on Friday as day one's stages were quite tricky, and then attack on days two and three and I really enjoyed a great battle with Toshi.

"Now we go to Wales with two points extra advantage in the Championship. To be honest, I have not thought about the championship at all. It has been a good season so far and I am quite confident we can complete it."

Novikov was understandably pretty upset and in the end finished just 6.3 seconds off P1. He had one consolation though, in that he still scored his first ever career podium in the P-WRC.

"The rear right suspension broke on the last stage. I don't know why, all we did was go over a small bump - we didn't hit anything. I'm really disappointed," he noted. "It was a really good rally otherwise and at least we have shown we have the speed. It's not as good as I wanted but it's okay."

Toshi Arai meanwhile came in third, just 2.9 seconds further back and after awful season was happy to end it on the rostrum. He will not compete on Rally GB as it was not one of his six nominated events.

"It was a really good battle and we all fought hard - H?nninen did a really good job. Obviously I would like to do better on my home rally but I'm really pleased to finish on the podium after a difficult season so it's a good way to finish the year," said the two-time Production champion.

Further down the order Eyvind Brynildsen made an impressive start and he held the lead until SS8 on the Friday. Unfortunately though his day was disrupted by an incident involving one of the World Rally Cars and as Brynildsen's co-driver Denis Giraudet left the rally car to accompany his good friend Patrick Pivato to hospital, it was to Brynildsen's advantage that SS8 was cancelled as a result of the delay.

Luckily he was able to complete the leg as Giraudet returned in time for the Sapporo Dome superspecial stages. While this would normally breach regulations, the stewards felt this was 'exceptional circumstances' and commended the humanitarian action of Giraudet.

Unfortunately a spin in the Dome cost Brynildsen the lead, which a chasing Novikov quickly adopted with Toshi Arai close behind in second.

Brynildsen lost more time on the Saturday with a puncture which resulted in suspension damage and in the end was happy to survive and take fourth, his best P-WRC result to date.

'Wild card' entrant Takuma Kamada was fifth with Mirco Baldacci and Katsuhiko Taguchi sixth and seventh respectively.

Like Kamada, Taguchi was entered by the organisers in the P-WRC and he drove the new Lancer Evo X.

2006 P-WRC runner-up Fumio Nutahara also contested his home event in the new Evo X, marking the car's first competitive outing in the WRC, but his rally wasn't an easy one, especially with a late co-driver change as his regular co-driver Daniel Barritt was sick at home in the UK. He had a number of problems, but at least took the final point in eighth.

Of the rest four other runners were classified with Armindo Araujo and Stefano Marini rounding out the top ten, followed by Subhan Aksa and Yasunori Hagiwara.

There were five retirements - namely Hiroshi Yanagisawa, who went out in SS1 with engine problems, while the final day claimed Naren Kumar (engine) and Martin Rauam (electrical) as well as Evgeniy Vertunov and Gianluca Linari, the latter two crashing out late on.

The Production Car World Rally Championship season now concludes on December's Wales Rally GB, with a two-way fight for the title on the cards between Hanninen and Red Bull's Andreas Aigner.



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