Pirelli: Hirvonen Wins Rally Japan While Loeb-Elena Claim the Championship
Mikko Hirvonen took a well-deserved but ultimately futile win in Japan, having led the rally from the early stages. Thanks to third place in the land of the rising sun Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have sealed their fifth consecutive World Rally Championship. Latvala was second for Ford, while Subaru's Atkinson and the Suzuki duo of Andersson and Gardemeister rounded out the top six.
Sapporo 2 November 2008 - As had been predicted beforehand, Mikko Hirvonen triumphed for the second consecutive time on Rally Japan, the 14th (and penultimate) round of this year's World Rally Championship, having pushed hard from the start. Nonetheless his triumph was rendered useless by the third place from the Pirelli Scorpion-equipped Citroen C4 WRC of Loeb-Elena, which handed the crew a fifth consecutive world title. Ford's consolation prize was a one-two on the rally, as behind Hirvonen was the second factory Focus WRC of an on-form Jari-Matti Latvala.
"It may sound obvious, but winning a fifth consecutive world title is naturally a huge source of satisfaction for me," said Loeb, before adding "it's been a really good championship, even though I would have preferred to win it without having to drive tactically." The Frenchman went onto explain that "once more the Scorpion tyres showed themselves to be extremely efficient here in Japan, even though on certain surfaces the soft compound tyre was a bit too rigid for some of the terrain. Nonetheless, we can still draw a very positive conclusion from them, given that today we drove on roads that were literally waterlogged. In these conditions it's obvious that tyres can't perform miracles. As for the rest, once more we didn't have a single puncture. Our Citroen C4 WRC also deserves particular praise, as like Daniel and me it has adapted itself perfectly to the new tyres developed by Pirelli."
Amongst the happiest drivers at the end of the 2008 Rally Japan were Chris Atkinson and Toni Gardemeister. Subaru's Australian star faced one or two problems in the early stages of the event, but gradually regained confidence and places to end up fourth in his Pirelli-equipped Subaru Impreza WRC. For the Suzuki-driving Finn, who was sixth, the penultimate round of this year's World Rally Championship was "extremely positive. Our SX4 WRC proved to be reliable, the performance was there, and the crews did the rest. Winning a special stage and seeing two cars in the top six was very satisfying, particularly as these results have come on Suzuki's home event. The Scorpion tyres performed well even in difficult conditions like those we saw today, where we drove on roads that were like rivers, or in deep mud, which is not fun at the wheel of a WRC car."
Paul Hembery, Pirelli's motorsport director, said: "I'd like to congratulate Sebastien and Daniel for their fifth consecutive drivers' World Rally Championship, which underlines the abilities of both driver and co-driver, as well as those of the Citroen C4 WRC. Hirvonen-Lehtinen and the Ford Focus WRC are also to be congratulated, as together with Loeb, Elena and Citroen they have given us all a thrilling end to the season."
The Production car World Championship category (P-WRC) - which is for Group N and S2000 cars, also with Pirelli as its exclusive tyre supplier - was won in Japan by the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX of Juho Hanninen.