Arai wins, Mason closes in on West at Rotorua Rally

World championship leader Toshi Arai from Japan has taken out the Hella International Rally of Rotorua.

Arai and his Kiwi co-driver Tony Sircombe, the current leaders of the FIA World Production Car Championship (PWRC), stamped their class over the field to claim in the rally which doubled as the third round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally championships and fourth round of the Parker Enzed New Zealand Rally Championship.

The Subaru driver, who led by 59 seconds overnight, was fastest in two of today’s final four stages in boggy conditions in the forests near Rotorua to win by 1min 45sed from New Zealand’s Richard Mason to gain his first points in this year’s Asia Pacific Championship.

With Arai well clear, most interest centred on the battle for New Zealand Championship honours where Mason claimed the honours but had to withstand a storming final day from first day co-leader Mark Tapper form Auckland. Tapper won the other two stages near Waiotapu, including a stage record in his Mitsubishi, climbing from 45-seconds behind overnight to just 1.9secs from Mason.

The big loser was national champion Chris West (Auckland) who lost nearly three minutes with a puncture in SS9. The Subaru driver recovered with a strong final stage but finished less than a second behind Taihape’s Brett Martin who earned his first ever national championship podium finish.

Provisionally West still leads the national championship with two rounds remaining, but is only three points ahead of Mason with 21 points back to Auckland’s Mark Tapper.

Finland’s Jussi Valimaki finished fourth overall ahead of Japan’s Katsuhiko Taguchi and extends his lead in the Asia Pacific Championship. Valimaki, who won the previous round in New Caledonia, is 18 points ahead of New Zealand’s Geof Argyle, who picked up just five points in Rotorua, wit Arai jumping to third place.

It proved a continuation of the strong form from Arai who completed back-to-back victories after his triumph in the world production championship in Turkey.

“It was my first time here and I was very pleased with the rally,’’ Arai said. “The roads with this rally are some narrow, some wide, some very long with lots of different types. I think it is more enjoyable roads than Rally New Zealand.’’

It proved a successful homecoming for his co-driver Tony Sircombe from Otorohanga.

“My last win outright in New Zealand was in 1982. I’ve won the Group N at Rally New Zealand and been second in the world championship in New Zealand but this was the first win outright for more than 20 years here,’’ Sircombe said. “It was extremely enjoyable. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been up the Motu and it was still a great stage.’’

Mason believes his strong form this week has set up a dogfight for the New Zealand championship with West.

“I’ve had a fantastic couple of events. Rotorua has never been good to me so this has been a great result. I’m only three points off the championship and it sets up a real fight in the last two rounds.’’

It also proved a strong weekend for Tapper who but for an errant rock that split the intercooler pipe in the 47km Motu stage on Saturday would have claimed his first national championship win.

“I was surprised that I was so fast on the opening day and didn’t expect to be leading with Toshi. I knew we would be fast today and if we had not had that problem in the Motu it would have been Mason leading the championship and we would have been right in it. Now we are probably too far back.’’

The winner in the Kiwi 2 Championship was Auckland’s Dave Strong (Honda Civic) who continues to lead the championship from Dunedin’s Jason West. It proved a double for Strong who took out the Waiariki Institute Clubmans Rally from Waiuku’s Ray Reid (Subaru Impreza).

Provisional results:

Hella International Rally of Rotorua:

Toshi Arai-Tony Sircombe (Japan, Subaru) 2hr54m31s, 1; Richard Mason-Hamish Fenemor (Masterton, Subaru at 1m:45s, 2; Mark Tapper-Jeff Judd (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 7) at 1m:47s, 3; Jussi Valimaki-Jarkko Kallioepo (Finland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 2m29s, 4; Katsuhiko Taguchi-Mark Stacey (Japan, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 4m02s, 5; Hiroshi Yanagisawa-Tadashi Misaizu (Japan, Subaru) at 4m42s, 6; Brett Martin-Raymond Bennett (Taihape, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 5m01s, 7; Chris West-Garry Cowan (Auckland, Subaru) at 5m02s, 8; Glenn Smith-Colin Smith (Hawera, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 5m43s, 9; Dean Sumner-Jeff Cress (Rotorua, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 6m05s, 10; Geof Argyle-Jane Black (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 6m30s, 11; Sam Murray-Stuart Jenkinson (Palmerston North, Subaru) at 8m36s, 12; Dylan Turner-Sandeep Bansal (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 8m38s, 13; Grant Barber-Bede O’Connor (Foxton, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 17m15s, 14; Dermott Malley-Stephen Smith (Hastings, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 18m41s, 15; Brian Green-Fleur Pederson (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 20m37s, 16; Patrick Christian-Frederic Perraud (New Caledonia, Mitsubishi Evo 6) at 26m49s, 17; Mitsuhiro Kunisawa-Simone Bachmann (Japan, Subaru) at 28m05s, 18; Brent Taylor-Chris Ramsay (Cambridge, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 30m24s, 19; Chee Hong Kan-Bernard Chin (China, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 30m58s, 20.

Asia Pacific Championship points after three rounds:
Valimaki 43, Argyle 25, Arai 16, Taguchi, Kan, Green all 11, Malley 9, Kanisawa 6, Fan 5, Langiet 4.

Parker Enzed Championship points after four rounds:
West 185, Mason 182, Tapper 161, Gilmour 140, Martin 13, Smith 123, Murray 119, Turner 99, Marty Roestenburg 97, Sumner 96.

Kiwi 2:
Dave Strong (Honda, Auckland) 1, Jason West (Suzuki Ignis, Dunedin) 2, James Holder (Mitsubishi, Auckland) 3.

Waiariki Institute Clubman’s Rally:
Strong 1, Ray Reid (Subaru, Waiuku) 2, Anton Meier (Subaru, Cambridge) 3.


1 Toshihiro Arai-Tony Sircombe
The Redwoods were incredibly slippery we went off a couple of times. It was a challenging stage. We had the luxury to take it a bit easy.

2 Katsuhiko Taguchi-Mark Stacey
Very very muddy and slippery. Ideally suited to our driver as he likes these conditions. 1st Stage we had “moment” one corner should have been a 5 instead of a 6. Went into the gutter lucky there was nothing in there and we managed to get out.

3 Jussi Valimaki-Jarkko Kalliolepo
First stage ok. Second stage was very slippery and we had some offs, which caused damage to the right tyre in front of rear tyre. Car is handling fine though.

4. Geof Argyle-Jane Black
We have a problem again, hand brake came on and it was just jammed on. I thought it was me but down the road I looked and it was jammed on again..

5. Chris West-Garry Cowan
Hitting banks, backing up roads, going into ditches, bad stage. We were going around corners with half the car up the bank to get around. Think we have some suspension problems, trying hard but not a good stage.

6. Mark Tapper-Jeff Judd
Second stage was really slippery but the tyres are good. I was very happy with first stage. I was determined to keep my record and I took 10 seconds off it. We went up on the bank on the real tight corners where it was really slippery but there’s no damage.

7. Richard Mason-Hamish Fenemor
It was so slippery that we couldn’t make the corners just bashing bank to bank but the car is running ok.

8. Sam Murray-Stuart Jenkinson
Terrible. Mixture of tyres, suspension and driving. Had a couple of spins, not happy.

9. Emma Gilmour-John Bennie
The first stage was really good. But the second stage was a awful. I’m not happy. It’s super slippery. There’s a bad vibration in the back. It was like a toboggan run down hill. We backed off a lot

10 Glenn Smith-Colin Smith
We used skinny tyres and they worked well for us. Last stage was very slippery. We have a front end problem as we have for the last two days. It’s electronic.

11 Brett Martin-Raymond Bennett
Redwoods was the most slippery stage we have ever driven and went off a few times. We did damage to the front spoiler but it hung in there.

12 Marty Roestenburg-Greg Hamett
Shocker today. Puncture 7km from the end of ss8. We stopped thinking it was the front tyre but it was a rear. But we are here and that’s the main thing.

14 Hiroshi Yanagisawa – Tadashi Misaizu
Very slippery and lots of deep muddy bits. Did a spin in second stage and lost about 10 seconds which did damage to the left rear. All is good.

15 Dean Sumner-Jeff Cress
Stage is a joke. It feels like we are doing 5kph. We are using a cut tyre and losing about one second to those who are using muds. We slid into a couple of banks.

16 Dylan Turner-Sandeep Bansai
How I finished I don’t know. It’s a mud bath out there. I had the wrong tyre choice on 205 totally wrong. I lost heaps of time. The car is running ok, just loads of moments.

17 Patrick Christian-Frederic Perraud
Lost heaps of time in ss8. Think we have a broken suspension or transmission.

18 Grant Barber-Bede O’Connor
It’s like a motocross track with banks that you can use to get you round. Took about 100m to stop when you decide to brake.

19 Brian Green-Fleur Pedersen
Four times off the road, cars running good, tyre choice wrong. Way too muddy.

23 Dermott Malley-Stephen Smith
Ahh no its not dry out there. There was a hairpin in the first stage that I put my foot on the brake and it didn’t work, my life insurance policy flashed before my eyes.

24 Masahiro Nakajima-Naoki Kuroosaki
First stage no so bad but the second I couldn’t control sometimes I ran into the banks.

25 Masahiro Kunisawa-Simone Bachmann
Mud mud and more mud, it was very slow and slippery we kept sliding till we hit the bank. No damage though. We are lucky.

Quotes from podium finishers at the Asia Pacific Championship:

Winner, Toshi Arai-Tony Sircombe:

“It was my first time here and I was very pleased with the rally,” Arai said. “The roads with this rally are some narrow, some wide, some very long with lots of different types. I think it is more enjoyable roads than Rally New Zealand.

“I only enter five APRC events and with no points from Canberra, even with four wins it will be very difficult to win the championship. My focus is on the PWRC. This rally is to help us develop the car and keep in good form.”

“My last win outright in New Zealand was in 1982. I’ve won the Group N at Rally New Zealand and been second in the world championship in New Zealand but this was the first win outright for more than 20 years here. It was extremely enjoyable. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been up the Motu and it was still a great stage.”

Jussi Valimaki-Jarkko Kalliolepo

We pushed very hard on the first day and was close to Toshi. But it was impossible to carry on at that speed for the whole rally. I did not give up and I was disappointed he was so much quicker than me. But we also have to thinka bout the championship as well. Some times you have to secure your position. It is not always about how fast you go, you have to sacrifice the speed for your position.

Katsuhiro Taguchi-Mark Stacey

We had a spin on the first day. But today I was very very happy to come from eighth to fifth. It was very enjoyable.