Sebastien Ogier clinched his second World Rally Championship victory and his first in the works Citroen team by overcoming Petter Solberg in Japan.
Citroen privateer Solberg had led the majority of the event and looked set to take a stunning win, the first for an independent entry for at least 16 years, until a broken damper cost him ground on the final loop of stages this afternoon. He held on to second, but could not prevent Ogier pulling out a 15.7-second lead and claiming the victory, despite the Frenchman having never contested this event before.
"It's amazing, I'm really, really happy," said Ogier. "Arriving here I said 'okay, it will be a difficult rally for me – I don't like this kind of stage, it's very rough and it's my first time.' But immediately we found a good feeling and a good rhythm, and now we have won, so it's perfect."
Solberg's participation in the rally had initially been in doubt due to illness, but once the full-length stages began on Friday he shrugged off his fever and controlled the event. He briefly lost the lead when he was given a 10s penalty for jumping a stage start on Saturday afternoon, before moving back to the front as others used slowing tactics to avoid running first on the road today. The damper problem meant he was never able to demonstrate if he would have been able to hold off Ogier despite his road position.
"Obviously, I never thought we would go so well after the flu and the fever and everything – I felt terrible at the start of the rally," said Solberg. "But the car worked really well and I really had a good feeling for everything. Unfortunately we had this problem with the car. But I'm really happy."
Both works Fords had also been in the thick of the battle for victory during a thrilling weekend, but both were denied by mechanical problems. Jari-Matti Latvala recovered from a Saturday afternoon driveshaft breakage – which happened just after Solberg's penalty had given him the lead – to chase down Dani Sordo and reclaim third from the Citroen Junior driver with four stages to go.
Mikko Hirvonen fared worse, though. He started today second behind Solberg and poised to challenge for the lead, only for a differential problem to strike. With no service today, Hirvonen had to nurse his car through the entire leg, and tumbled to sixth. He finished behind championship leader Sebastien Loeb, who was off the pace all weekend and finished 53.3sec behind teammate Ogier in fifth. But with Ogier still 43 points adrift in the standings, Loeb looks near certain to clinch his seventh consecutive WRC title on home turf in France at the start of October.
Henning Solberg (Stobart Ford) and Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) completed the WRC runners, with Ford's Khalid Al Qassimi, Stobart's Matthew Wilson and Citroen Junior's Kimi Raikkonen crashing out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Jari Ketomaa led the S2000 contest from the outset and finished ninth overall ahead of class rival Martin Prokop. Patrik Flodin dominated the Production division once Toshi Arai had crashed out of the lead on Friday morning.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen 3h10m26.4s
2. Petter Solberg Citroen + 15.7s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 26.0s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 35.2s
5. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 53.3s
6. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m13.5s
7. Henning Solberg Ford + 3m03.1s
8. Federico Villagra Ford + 10m17.9s
9. Jari Ketomaa Ford + 14m47.1s
10. Martin Prokop Ford + 15m20.8s