Rally of Japan to get underway

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Teams, event organisers and fans are likely to be bracing themselves for wet conditions when the inaugural Rally Japan gets underway on Friday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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Teams, event organisers and fans are likely to be bracing themselves for wet conditions when the inaugural Rally Japan gets underway on the island of Hokkaida on Friday. The forecast is for rain, with the country having being hit by Typhoon Chaba earlier in the week. All the drivers had nothing but praise for the latest addition to the World Rally Championship, with just about all the competitors commenting on what a good challenge the Japanese course should provide. Frenchman Sebastien Loeb will be looking to consolidate his position at the top of the standings. The Citroen driver won the last event in Germany, and, after 10 rounds, has 76 points. He leads by 29 points from Ford's Markko Martin, with Citroen teammate Carlos Sainz a further point back in third place. Top slots Reigning world champion Petter Solberg has his work cut out for him, if he is to successfully defend his title. The Subaru driver is currently fourth overall on 44 points, 32 adrift of Loeb, leaving him with plenty of work to do. Solberg has admitted that he is struggling to get back up to speed after his crash in Germany two weeks ago. Solberg's Subaru team mate Mikko Hirvonen is down the standings in seventh place on 19 points, and he will also need a good drive in Japan if he is to make up ground. One man who will be backing himself to move up the standings is double world champion Marcus Gronholm. The Fin is currently fifth on 42 points, but has had a good look at the Hokkaida course, and seems confident that his experience will help him get the better of his rivals. Markko Martin knows that this weekend's Rally of Japan is crucial in his fight to pip rival Loeb to the world title. The Estonian is currently second, 29 points behind Loeb, and the Ford driver knows that he can't let his French rival get further ahead. Martin needs to do better than the fourth he achieved in Germany, with victory an absolute must. Interesting times These are currently interesting times for Ford and their drivers. The team has announced that they are reviewing their Rally Championship involvement beyond the end of the season, and, have given driver Francois Duval permission to speak to other teams with regards to a drive for next season. Duval finished second in the Rally of Germany and is sixth in the championship on 39 points. The Rally Japan could also be crucial this weekend, for rally legend Carlos Sainz. He is currently lying third on the standings, 30 points behind teammate Loeb. Sainz knows that that is a big deficit to make up and has even admitted that it might be beyond him. The Spaniard, though, is sure to push the limits in Japan, and is unlikely to give up the fight. (AP)