Japan poses tough test

The World Rally Championship's leading drivers have given the thumbs up to the stages on this weekend's inaugural Rally Japan, and have admitted that it is likely to be one of the more challenging events of the season

Japan poses tough test

After Thursday's recce and shakedown, double world champion Marcus Gronholm has described the narrow forest stages as a "a mix between Wales Rally GB, New Zealand and some narrow stages of Finland" and said the event was proving to be better than he expected. Citroen's Carlos Sainz described it as "quite different from much of the roads we have been competing on so far".

Gronholm added: "The stages are very narrow and fast, but on the side of the road there is a lot of grass. If you are brave, you can start cutting corners, but if you are unlucky then you can find a surprise in the grass and then you'll be going home. You need to be a little bit lucky if you decided to cut everywhere, but you can only try. For sure it will be tricky. Everyone is going to just have to try a standard set-up of the car and do their best job."

Reigning world champion Petter Solberg said: "I think it will be a good rally. I think everyone will respect it. It's quite difficult. There are many unseen corners. I hope that everyone stays on the road, which is a good thing for spectators and everybody. I just hope for a clean fight."

Ford's Markko Martin added: "From a drivers' point of view, leg one and leg two are a bit boring as they look similar to each other, but they are very fast and narrow so that doesn't mean they are easy to drive. They're quite difficult to drive fast, and, if you make a mistake, there are steep ditches on both sides all the time. The third leg is the best one of this rally, and these are really challenging stages - not easy for sure."

The weather could prove to be the critical element: The Hokkaido island, on which the event is based, has been suffering the aftermath of Typhoon Chaba. It is currently warm and sunny, however, with conditions set to stay that way for the weekend.

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