A heart-stopping moment over an unexpected jump on the final special stage didn’t prevent Possum Bourne from scoring an historic triumph for Subaru on Japan’s first international championship rally, the 2002 Rally Hokkaido.
The last-gasp drama unfolded just seconds from the finish of the rally, on the seemingly innocuous crowd-pleasing super special stage that wrapped up this, the fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
Bourne became a temporary passenger when his Group A Impreza STi launched into the air, landed nose first, and slewed off the road. Fortunately he was able to regain control as the Impreza slid along a grassy bank on the side of the road, and completed the stage with nothing more than cosmetic damage to the car.
‘Where did that jump come from? That section was nothing like that when we used the same stage two days ago,’ exclaimed the shocked New Zealander after completing the stage. The answer lay in soft-based road surfaces that were a feature of the Hokkaido event, and which cut up even more badly than expected thanks to heavy rain early in the rally.
While Bourne managed to lead throughout, and finished with a comfortable 6m25sec winning margin, he was pushed most of the way by top Katsuhiko Taguchi (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7).
After closing to within 8.5secs of Bourne at the end of day two, the Japanese Ralliart driver’s challenge started to fade with a niggling gearbox problem on the final morning. Punctures on consecutive stages then caused the local favourite’s retirement two stages from the finish.
Taguchi’s demise allowed Argentinian Marcos Ligato (Lancer Evo 6) through for well-deserved second placing overall, and victory in the Group N Production Class. The driver he battled with for Group N honours for much of the event – Hokkaido resident Fumio Nutahara – finished third overall in a Lancer Evo 7.
Another Japanese driver, Hiroshi Yanagisawa, claimed an outstanding fourth overall in a Group A Subaru Impreza, while Karamjit Singh (Malaysia, GpA Proton Pert) and Ed Ordynski (Australia, Gp Lancer Evo 7) completed the top six.
Singh, who had been placed third after leg one, dropped down the field during leg two with a puncture and turbo problems on leg two. A further puncture on leg three completed a difficult rally for the defending Asia-Pacific champion, but he still managed to salvage second-placed APRC points from the event, and so extend his overall series lead over Nico Caldarola.
Caldarola, by contrast, saw his advantage in the APRC Group N category trimmed to just 9 points thanks to the efforts of Australian-based New Zealander Stu Warren (Lancer Evo 7). As well as claiming the Group N APRC win for the round, Warren finished third overall amongst the APRC contenders on the way to seventh overall.
One place behind Warren on all three counts, New Caledonian Jean-Louis Leyraud (GpN Lancer Evo 6) also drove astutely in the tough conditions. Delayed by a range of problems on leg two, Caldarola continue on to finish 10th, just behind Japanese Group A driver Yuya Sumiyama.
Indian driver Narren Kumar (Lancer Evo 7) was the sixth of the APRC drivers to finish, in 12th place overall. New Zealander Brian Green (Lancer Evo 6) was the only other APRC finisher, in 16th.
Amongst the other APRC drivers Reece Jones (NZ, Lancer Evo 7) and Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima (Japan, Suzuki Ignis Super 1600) both retired on each of the first two legs, but rejoined to score bonus series points on the final leg.
Andrew Hawkeswood (NZ, Lancer Evo 6) had a horror run, starting every day, but completing just two stages on the entire event. Haruo Takakawa (Japan, Impreza) also had a drama filled event, failing to complete a leg.
The next APRC round is the China Rally, in late October.