Katsuhiko Taguchi from Japan has won the 2004 Rally of China in his MRF Mitsubishi Lancer Evo8. Taguchi withstood constant pressure from former champions Malaysian Karamjit Singh and his team-mate Armin Kremer from Germany, but held onto his lead and finishing 16.4 seconds ahead of Karamjit Singh.
The event had a new base this year running out of the city of Haizhou in the southern Guangdong province. With a superspecial on the Friday near the city, the competitors headed into the countryside for two days of competition over fast bumpy roads that would see many competitors have major accidents. The Chinese local championship is very strong and features many international drivers in well funded teams, but for this event APRC competitors filled five of the top six places.
However the championship lost one of its stars in the second stage when young Australian Chris Atkinson driving a Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 hit a bump in 5th gear and rolled the car 4 times. The crew got the car back on its wheels and drove out of the stage but the car was too badly damaged to continue and further. Atkinson and codriver Glenn McNeal re-started on day 2, but went out on the first stage with engine problems. After the event Atkinson reflected “The worst event of my career, a DNF on the first stage of both days, really not fantastic, but you’re going to have these days in any rally career and we’ve had a lot of good days this year. Not the way I wanted to finish the championship and would have been good to have got an outright win, we came close but it wasn’t to be”. Atkinson’s DNF was made worse for the Suzuki team when his team-mate Vesa Mikkola hit a tree side-on and retired a few stages later with engine problems.
Needing an outright win to get his title chances on track again, Armin Kremer started off winning the second stage and taking the lead, but niggling problems with the car over the day, saw that lead surrendered to his team-mate Taguchi.
The conditions needed a good car and precision driving and Taguchi was happy with both, “..the car is working well and we only made one slight mistake today, brushing a tree”. Going into the second day he and Australian co-driver Mark Stacey held a slender 14 second lead over Karamjit Singh. “Karamjit and Armin are driving very fast, so we pushed hard today..the short stage we backed off a bit, but the other guys are driving very fast, so we have to push hard in the last section to stay ahead. I like China and its nice to win here again. Now we look forward to India and we try and win again”.
Singh was completely focused on finishing the event ahead of his main rival in the APRC points race, Armin Kremer. “We could have gone harder and maybe gone for the win, but our plan here was to stay ahead of Armin (Kremer) and keep our lead in the championship. This event was the hardest in the championship so far, its very high-speed but at the same time very bumpy and lots of jumps. The repeat stages got very rough and rocky, its so easy for the car to jump off the road”.
For Kremer finishing fastest APRC driver on the 2nd day was little compensation for seeing his 2004 championship hopes almost gone. Speaking after the event “..today was good for us, we could go maximum with the car and we are fastest APRC competitor and get a maximum three points, but the championship is almost gone now. We see what we can do in India”.
For New Zealander Geof Argyle the event was pure frustration, losing too much time on the opening leg with set-up problems, a result of little testing time and recce in a local rental car. “It hasn’t been a great event for us, but today we finally got the car setup for the conditions here and set a couple of fastest times, pity the rally doesn’t go another day. We had too many problems yesterday as the car was very unstable over the jumps”.
Italian Nico Caldarola hasn’t had a great year so far, but came to China hoping to repeat his win here in 2000. The Top Run Subaru driver was satisfied at the finish. “I’m happy to finish the event with no problems. The roads are different, much rougher and some big stones. We are happy with our final position, there’s a lot of top international drivers in the Chinese Championship and we and the other top five APRC competitors finished ahead of them.”
Of the other APRC finishers Brian Green from New Zealand had turbo problems and finished 12th, but stayed one position ahead of his team-mate Dermott Malley.
Unofficial Final Results
1. Taguchi Katsuhiko / Mark Stacey JPN Mitsubishi Lancer EVO8 2.08.59.9
2. Karamjit Singh / Allen Oh MAL Proton Pert 2.09.16.3
3. Armin Kremer / Timo Gottchalk GER Mitsubishi Lancer EVO8 2.10.09.8
4. Yanagisawa Hiroshi / Ideue Tatsuya JPN Fuji Subaru Impreza 184.108.40.206
5. Geof Argyle / Steve Smith NZL Mitsubishi Lancer EVO8 220.127.116.11
6. Nico Caldarola / Paola Cecchini ITA Subaru Impreza 18.104.22.168
7. Oscar Svedlund/Bjorn Nilsson SWE Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 22.214.171.124
8. Chan Chi Wah/Chan Tang Po Lin HKG Subarua Impreza 126.96.36.199
9. Liu Caodong/Mei Jianbang CHN Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 188.8.131.52
10. Wen Fan/Zhou Li CHN Mitsubishi Lancer EVO6 184.108.40.206
13. Brian Green/Fleur Pederson NZL Mitsubishi Lancer EVO8 220.127.116.11
14. Dermott Malley/Patrick Malley NZL Mitsubishi Lancer EV6.5 18.104.22.168