Rally Japan has featured on WRC before but in a different location and surface. The gravel stages of Hokkaido have been exchanged for tarmac roads of Honshu. The stages alternate between narrow and sinuous forest roads and wide racing circuit like main roads but in overall they are very sinuous and slow. There’s resemblance to Sanremo, Catalunya, Deutschland and Croatia. It seems there’s very few places to cut corners, resulting likely in less polluted road. Some of the roads also remind me of 80/90’s video games, possibly because they were Japanese! In any case it seems like a very interesting rally with an unique character!
Cover image by Toyota Gazoo Racing (C)
Maps @ rally-maps.com
“It’s a really special rally.– Teemu Suninen, Dirtfish
It will be a huge challenge for the drivers because it’s so narrow, there are so many corners, it’s so technical and there’s no room for any errors.
“I have always said that if people think we have a lot of corners in Corsica, it’s still a step further [in Japan].”
The shakedown of Kuragaike Park Reverse and SSS1 Kuragaike Park – like the names suggest – are the same stage but in the opposite directions. This is also the second tarmac setup super special of the 2022 season. Salou has featured annually in Catalunya, but the previous other one was in Germany 2018.
Kuragaike Park is an all-tarmac park stage driven on what seems to be an old wide tarmac road which has been transformed into a park lane with no more traffic. It seems like an angular rhythm with some straighter passages between the tight corners.
On this video we can see the ending of SSS1 (or start of shakedown). The very start of this video (or 1:19 – 1:35) will not be run on the WRC stage, but the donut around the tree at 0:32 is there, and those nice uphill bends, where the SSS1 finish or shakedown start line will be.
All in all this seems like a very nice super special – just once again I would remove the donut…as a shakedown, it probably isn’t that representative of the actual stages which are more narrow.
Friday is a long day with 46% of the rally in three double-run stages each around the 20 km mark. The stages are situated West from the Toyota city.
SS2+5 Isegami’s Tunnel is the longest stage of the rally at 23 km. In addition, it’s one of the slowest and trickiest stages constisting mostly of very narrow and worn roads. The first pass starts already at 7:02 local time with sunrise only minutes before, so additional lights could be needed.
We can see the stage on this private recce video from 4.2 km, starting at 4:46 since the 2020 version had a different beginning (the beginning here will be used on this year’s power stage, but more about that later). There’s no visuals for this year’s stage’s very beginning, but likely it’s a narrow and sinuous forest road.
Where the onboard starts, the road is medium wide and smooth, passing through a town. There’s both sinuous and straightforward passages. There’s a sidewalk on the edge of the road as an extra hazard in addition to preventing cutting.
At 6.3 km the stage turns onto a narrow and slightly worn forest road. It’s medium fast with some corners over crests but still no places to cut. At 7.9 km a junction makes the stage even narrower. It’s also now more technical with even three hairpins. The road becomes a bit wider just before a downhill and bridge leads to the next junction at 9.3 km.
The next road is again narrow but now also very worn, with even grass growing through the tarmac on the recce video from 2020. In contrast the section is quite straightforwardly fast but seems quite treacherous with big trees close to the road in combination to the slippery surface. A pair of hairpins brings the pace down at 11.6 km as the stage starts climbing up. Then it becomes sinuous at 12.3 km and starts descending at a junction at 13.2 km. You might also want to check out the above onboard from this section at 15:10, the road looks very abadoned with all the vegetation and soil on the road!
The 1897-built stone tunnel which gives the stage its title appears at 14.3 km. The locals apparently consider it haunted and I have to say it looks a bit scary! The tunnel also narrows twice so there’s a hazardous element as well.
What follows is a medium wide and quite smooth section. It soon becomes narrower and quite sinuous with an angular character, meaning that there’s faster passages between the tighter corners. However, the section also involves a series of six ascending hairpins. A junction at 16.4 km makes the road again more worn and slippery. The angular character remains, but now there’s some crests as well. A more thoroughly sinuous passage appears at 17.7 km but is followed instantly by a fast and straightforward one. The onboard ends 2.3 km before the finish but likely the ending proceeds similarly angular as earlier.
SS3+6 Inabu Dam is 19 km long but still the shortest stage of the day. It has a number of rhythm and width changes.
We can see most of the stage on this Heikki Kovalainen’s onboard video below with just 4 km from the beginning missing – consisting first of a narrow, worn and sinuous road and then wide, smooth and very fast road, where this video begins on.
At 5.6 km the stage turns onto a narrow, slightly worn and quite sinuous forest road with an Armco constantly on one side, trees or rockwalls on the other side. Tree leaves could make this section slippery. At 8.5 km the road starts having patches of fresh tarmac.
The next junction at 9 km turns onto a road which is smooth and medium wide, now faster with an angular character and long straights. There’s a jump right at the first acceleration and also a couple of technical sections thrown in, like a tricky pair of bridges at 10 km.
At 14.1 km the stage returns onto the wide and fast road from the beginning of the stage. It’s very straight but there’s two short detours off it onto smaller roads. Then the final 4 km of the stage are driven again on a similar forest road as previously on the stage. However, now it’s way more sinuous going steeply downhill, but also a bit smoother.
SS4+7 Shitara Town Reverse has only a few junction turns, but multiple rhythm changes. We can see the stage partially on this 2019 video, in the opposite direction, missing the start and ending.
Most of this stage consists of very technical and twisty narrow forest roads with surface changes and some tarmac patches. The width also changes constantly and there’s the usual offering of armcos, trees and rockwalls right next to the road. However, there are some faster and wider passages like at 6.5 km and 12.7 km. The first 7 km are all uphill, then downhill until the 90° junction at 13.2 km, followed by another steep and sinuous uphill section, including a hairpin switchback at 14.8 km.
At 19.9 km there’s another 90° junction turn at a farm area, again into a quite narrow road, straightforwardly fast for a while before again diving into the forest for more bends. Finally the last junction at 21.3 km takes the stage onto a wide main road which is super fast for the last kilometre.
Saturday is relatively short with only two long double-run stages, a single-run short stage and a double-run super special. The stages are located South-West from Toyota City.
SS8+11 Nukata Forest, like the Friday opener, starts just minutes after sunrise, and could thus need additional lights for the first pass. This is the longest stage of the day at 20 km of length. It has many width, surface and rhythm changes. On this video we can see the middle part of it.
The first section is once again a narrow and sinuous forest road. This street view shows the stage coming from the forest onto a medium wide road at 6.3 km. The stage turns left, which means it continues right from the street view camera.
The medium wide road has a slightly worn surface but is still very fast and this is where the above onboard begins on at 7.3 km. The stage goes into the forest and becomes a bit slower but still nicely flowing. A wider and super fast section while passing a town features at 9.3 km.
A smaller road is joined again at 10.6 km. It’s narrow and angular with fast and slow sections. There are no Armcos but cutting is still mostly impossible due to other obstacles. At 14.2 km there’s a tight junction turn and a link on a wide main road before turning again onto a small forest road. It’s sinuous and slow at first, then straightforwardly fast as it emerges from the forest into a countryside village.
The 2021 stage ended into the tight junction onto a wide road at 16.7 km, but the WRC stage still proceeds further. The wide and fast section ends at 18.1 km. On this street view the stage comes from the right and turns tightly right onto the small road. This particular street view gives me vibes of Rally Deutschland, with that narrow worn tarmac road and steep uphill.
This small road is again very narrow and sinuous. Another hairpin junction at 18.9 km takes the stage onto a medium wide road, back towards the wider road, which is finally joined at 19.8 km, just before the finish.
SS9+12 Lake Mikawako has an interesting structure where the first half has almost the same character throughout, but then we have multiple rhythm changes during the second half. The stage can be seen here on this onboard in its entirety, but into the opposite direction.
Lake Mikawako starts on a medium wide forest road. It’s first sinuous but switches soon into an angular character with tight and long corners, but usually a piece of straight or flat corners in between, resulting in lots of accelerating, braking and constant gear changes. This section continues all the way until 8.7 km, where the same road becomes a lot faster with an undulating character.
At 9.4 km the stage turns onto a narrow road passing a village, again angularly through several square bends. A wider road is joined through a junction after a bridge at 10.3 km for a very fast passage. Then it becomes more jarring with accelerating and braking to tight corners, then a sort of slow-flow from corner to corner. Finally there’s a bit of Croatia-style fast-flowing road with crests.
SS10 Shinshiro City is a short stage. While it’s definitely not a super special, it’s for sure different to the other forest stages and likely the fastest one. We can see it in its entirety on Heikki Kovalainen’s onboard video, where his average speed on a Skoda Fabia R5 was as high as 113.8 km/h.
The start of the stage is angular, from junction turn to another, first on a wide road and then on a medium wide one. A narrow and technical passage leads into the wide road which is used for the rest of the stage. It’s fast, smooth and cambered, flowing nicely from corner to another, almost like a racing track or at least some Catalunyan stage.
SSS13+14 Okazaki City is a super special consisting of narrow paved park lanes and an open gravel area with the route created by plastic barriers, involving a loop. It’s a quite futile super special but it’s fun to have the cars doing gravel slides on tarmac wheels. Compared to this onboard, the WRC stage has two extra tight bends upon entering the gravel area.
While Saturday was shorter than usually, Sunday is a bit longer with almost 70 competitive kilometres in five special stages. The leg stretches North-West through three stages, where the last one is run only once and the second one is repeated on the way back, resulting in an unusual itinerary structure.
SS15+19 Asahi Kougen is the first stage of the day but due to the itinerary structure also the power stage. It’s only 7.5 km long, which is one of the shortest power stages of the season. The first stage of the day starts an hour later than on Friday and Saturday, meaning there should be more daylight now.
The stage starts on a wide and very fast section. We can see it on this street view
At 2.9 km there is a turn onto a smaller road and on this video from 2021 we can see the rest of the stage. It’s a quite narrow mountain/forest road with a medium fast character and constant width changes. Once again the falling tree leaves could make the surface slippery. At the end there’s two deceptive junction turns. The last 400 m of the stage (after the place where Kovalainen makes a mistake)
is actually borrowed from Friday’s SS2+5, but in the opposite direction.
SS16+18 Ena City is the longest stage of the day at 21 km. There’s again a number of surface and rhythm changes. This onboard shows the beginning of the stage, although it will be preceded by 200m of straight and a junction turn.
The start of the stage is mostly fast-flowing with the aforementioned junction turn and a pair of other tighter turns. The surface is slightly worn. It gets also narrower at the first tight left while entering the forest. At 2 km in the stage becomes very sinuous and narrow. At 7.2 km there is a junction turn which makes the stage more angular, with faster passages between the tight corners, but it’s still quite slow and technical overall.
The forest ends and a wider, very fast road is joined at 10.2 km, including a narrow bridge at 11.5 km. After that it becomes again narrow and goes into the forest with a medium fast pace and broken tarmac.
The video ends at 13.6 km into the stage, just before a left turn onto a quite narrow but fast forest road with broken tarmac. The road narrows at 16.5 km and becomes gradually more sinuous towards the end.
SS17 Nenoue Plateau is driven only once. It appears that the stage is driven completely on the road 413, with no junction turns. This makes it one of the most straightforward stages in terms of rhythm changes.
The very beginning seems to be quite wide on a slightly worn surface. We can see it on this hill climb video from 2021, starting at 0:25 (without the chicanes!).
At first it’s fast and flowing, but then three pairs of hairpins appear, followed by a more sinuous passage and then a faster one. The onboard ends around 3.9 km into the stage, while passing a town. The stage proceeds quite fast with an angular character, becoming considerably narrow and sinuous at 7.1 km
Just before the stage ends the road becomes again wide, but there’s no more corners left.