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WRC Rally Japan

WRC drivers expect "big challenge" in Japan from scattered leaves, pine needles

A carpet of leaves and pine needles on the stages coupled with inclement weather is set to create a “big challenge” for World Rally Championship crews on Rally Japan.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Drivers have noted an excessive amount of leaves and pine needles covering the asphalt stages following the recce earlier this week.

The conditions are much worse compared to last year with some crews describing the road surface as like driving on “ice”, and to make matters worse rain is expected to fall on Friday.

It is understood that there have been attempts to clear some of the leaves from the roads using leaf blowers. Drivers have also asked for the roads to be cleaned with a decision on that expected later today.

“I have never seen something like this,” said Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi

“For sure, the roads are twisty but the problem is the leaves and the pine needles, the road is fully covered you cannot see the road.

“When it is wet, I don’t know how slippery it will be, but I guess it will be more slippery than ice sometimes. I guess we need to be very slow but let’s see maybe the rain will help, but if it is really wet we could get some mud flows from banks.”

Team-mate Thierry Neuville added: “We have asked for it [the roads to be cleaned] but the info we have got is there will be no cleaning.

“We have seen some stages have been cleaned during the recce by people with leaf blowers. We don’t have any more information at the moment.”

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Newly crowned two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera believes the rally will be “really difficult” and being first on the road won’t be easy.

“I have never really been a fan of these stages. They are really narrow and tricky all the time and quite slow, which are not the best for me,” said Rovanpera.

“This year the conditions look to be really difficult with all the leaves and pine needles coming from the trees. Being first on the road is not going to be easy. 

“On the recce when we had a section with the pine needles it was like ice and in some places, you don’t even see the tarmac. And if it is wet, I don’t want to know how it will be. It will be a big challenge, for sure.

“I will give my best to try and win it, but it is more like a challenge for me.”

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Toyota has set victory at their home event of the season as a key objective after losing to Hyundai at this rally last year.

Given the tricky conditions, Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala believes Friday will be about survival and patience will be required from his drivers.

“It is not easy at the moment as there is more dirt this year, and last year, we didn’t have pine needles on the road which is making it quite slippery and there is massive rain coming on Friday,” said Latvala.

“I hope it is not the case, but it could be about survival Friday. We need to have patience.”

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