Young Kiwi driver Mark Tapper shares the honours with world championship leader Toshi Arai after the first day of the Hella International Rally of Rotorua today.
The pair were locked on 32min 14.0sec after today’s three special stages run in light rain east of Rotorua in the third round of the FIA Asia Pacific Championship which doubles as the fourth round of the Parker Enzed New Zealand Championship. The 24-year-old Aucklander took out the opening special stage while Arai (Japan), the current leader of the FIA Production World Rally Championship, claimed the remaining two special stages.
Current New Zealand champion Chris West (Auckland) is nearly 10 seconds behind with a further 13 seconds back to fellow Subaru driver Richard Mason (Masterton), who slipped behind on the opening stage after a loose coil lead left him running on three cylinders.
Finland’s Jussi Valimaki (Subaru), the currently leader of the Asia Pacific Championship, is 28.4 seconds behind the leaders.
The Kiwi drivers showed they could foot it with the best, claiming six of the top 10 placings with both Asia Pacific and New Zealand Championship drivers competing under the same Group N specifications for the first time.
It was a fine start for the super-fast Tapper (Mitsubishi Evo 7) who has often proved slick but suffered from reliability.
“It is definitely the start that we needed and definitely better than the last two rallies,’’ Tapper said. “It’s good to know we are on the pace and able to match the internationals.
“The car felt really good. I’m really comfortable with it. Rotorua has always been good to me. We are really looking forward to tomorrow.’’
Tapper, starting sixth, produced a superb first stage over 14.3km in Maniatutu, halfway between Rotorua and Te Puke, handling the tricky wet conditions well to be eight six seconds quicker than West with Valimaki and Arai a further 2.5 seconds back.
Arai, who is fresh from his second win of the season in the world production class at Turkey, stamped his class on the field in taking out second two, a 12.17km test in Rotoehu Forest to close within four seconds of Tapper’s lead.
The Japanese driver with Kiwi co-driver Tony Sircombe, were fastest through the tight and testing 24.23km third stage in Manawahe claiming the four second deficit to share the overall lead with Tapper.
West, who has a 21-point lead in the national championship, felt he was not quite on song today.
“May be I wasn’t trying hard enough. I can’t have been because I didn’t hit anything,’’ West said. “The Mitsubishis probably had some advantages in the first two stages where are really quick.’’
Valimaki, who won the last round of the Asia Pacific Championship found the wet, winter conditions difficult.
“The conditions were awful. We are hoping for dry weather tomorrow. I did lose some drive in the last stage although I don’t know what the problem is,’’ Valimaki said.
There were two defections with China’s Caodong Liu out with suspension problems on stage two and well-known Kiwi driver Marty Roestenburg, fifth overall after two stages, crashed out over a bank in the tricky final stage of the day at Manawahe.
The field tackle three pivotal stages in Eastern Bay of Plenty tomorrow including the iconic 47kms stage through the Motu which is likely to play a major part in deciding the final outcome of the rally. It concludes with four stages around Rotorua on Sunday.
The leading driver in the Kiwi 2 Championship is Auckland’s Dave Strong in the Honda Civic, 31.3s ahead of Shane Watkin (Matamata) with Jason West (Dunedin) a further 36.4 seconds back in third.
Leader of the Waiariki Clubman’s Rally is 1990 national champion Dave Ayling (Inglewood) from Glenn Inkster (Pukekohe) and Strong.
Provisional results after leg 1 section 1, Hella International Rally of Rotorua:
Toshi Arai-Tony Sircombe (Japan, Subaru) and Mark Taper-Jeff Judd (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 7) both 32:14.0; equal 1; Chris West-Garry Cowan (Auckland, Subaru) at 9.9 sec, 3; Richard Mason-Hamish Fenemor (Masterton, Mitsubishi Evo) at 23.2s, 4; Jussi Valimaki-Jarkko Kallioepo (Finland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 28.4s, 5; Sam Murray-Stuart Jenkinson (Palmerston North, Subaru) at 34.8s, 6; Katsuhiko Taguchi-Mark Stacey (Japan, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 41.1s, 7; Emma Gilmour-John Bennie (Dunedin, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 44.8s, 8; Dean Sumner-Jeff Cress (Rotorua, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 45.4s, 9; Hiroshi Yanagisawa-Tadashi Misaizu (Japan, Subaru) at 47.6s, 10; Brett Martin-Raymond Bennett (Taihape, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 53.9s, 11; Dylan Turner-Sandeep Bansal (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 1:15.3, 12; Geof Argyle-Jane Black (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi 8) at 1:19.0, 13; Glenn Smith-Colin Smith (Hawera, Mitsubishi Evo 8) 1:41.3, 14; Brent Taylor-Chris Ramsay (Cambridge, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 2:24.2, 15; Chee Hong-Kan Chin (China, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 2:42.6, 16; Lee-Anne Barns-Erin Kyle (Auckland, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 2:58.8, 17; Grant Barber-Bede O’Connor (Foxton, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 3:05.0, 18; Dermott Malley-Stephen Smith (Hastings, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 3:40.0, 19; Brian Green-Fleur Pederson (Palmerston North, Mitsubishi Evo 8) at 3:40.5, 20.
2005 HELLA INTERNATIONAL RALLY OF ROTORUA QUOTE SHEET, END OF LEG 1, SECTION 1
1 Toshihiro Arai-Tony Sircombe
We were tentative on the first stage settling in. Good run on the last stage. The slipperiness is variable. The last stage had a polished service, a lot of camber in the road. We had to be careful not to end up in a ditch on the other side of the road.
2 Katsuhiko Taguchi-Mark Stacey
Very good considering the conditions. Wet and slippery as we expected. Had medium tyres on but were wrong, need narrow. Other than that relaxed.
3 Jussi Valimaki-Jarkko Kalliolepo
It’s quite ok. The weather is awful. Hoping for it to dry up. Third stage we had engine problems, don’t know what was wrong. We had no drive. We’re manly happy.
4. Geof Argyle-Jane Black
Too wet for me. Didn’t have narrow tyres, so I am down on times. Not too concerned, it is a big day tomorrow. Just happy to make sure the car and our notes are ok.
5. Chris West-Garry Cowan
So so. The intercooler spray is not working. It is not using any water. It must be through the throttle response. Hard work. I wasn’t trying. I was too causious. It was quite slippery. We had intercom problems, it was muffled so we swapped headsets so that I could hear the co-driver.
6. Mark Tapper-Jeff Judd
Pretty well. Very slippery in SS1 but it feels good. 1st equal – we are feeling good about this. It is better than the last two rallies. It is the start we needed. Rotorua has always been good to us and we look forward to it. SS3 helicopter corner, come around the corner and what was right on my line I think was a camera bag, took it a little wide but had no choice but to hit it. Couldn’t change my line.
7. Richard Mason-Hamish Fenemor
Had fuel serge in SS3 and an electrical fault in SS1. Other than that it was very slippery.
8. Sam Murray-Stuart Jenkinson
SS1 not too bad. Changed the suspension in SS2 and then changed it back in SS3 – just to see if we could get it to feel a bit better. Very slippery, but the car was pretty right.
9. Emma Gilmour-John Bennie
SS1 and SS2 all good. On SS3 we hit a big rock, it has taken a huge chunk out of the rim and damaged the steering. It was a real challenge as it didn’t want to go around corners.
10 Glenn Smith-Colin Smith
SS3 lost all communication. Didn’t know what was coming up. Lost heaps of time. I think there is something wrong with the computer, the car is understeering. It is all rubbish.
11 Brett Martin-Raymond Bennett
Slow. The car’s fine, it’s just me. The tyres were right too, it’s just me. Nerves.
12 Marty Roestenburg-Greg Hamett
Over a bank in SS3. Out of rally.
14 Horishi Yanagisawa-Tadashi Misaizu
15 Dean Sumner-Jeff Cress
Good. Heaps better than we have done. Not running special fuel but we are pretty happy.
16 Dylan Turner-Sandeep Bansai
Good, wrong tyres in SS3, went up to a 205. Had a bit of a moment in SS3 and nearly rolled. Power is great. Concerned about fuel, we only had a standard tank. Very slippery.
17 Patrick Christian-Frederic Perraud
No faults with the car. Slower SS1 and then it got better.
18 Grant Barber-Bede O’Connor
Not too bad. A bit slippery. Fighting back after last week (rolled 3 times). The team has done a good job to get the car together.
19 Brian Green-Fleur Pedersen
Good so far. Very slippery, cold and wet. Not really the right tyres. Faster than last year, but not as fast as we should be.
20 Chee Hong Kan-Bernard Chin
Drive shaft problem in SS1 now just waiting for parts.
21 Brent Taylor-Chris Ramsay
22 Lee-Anne Barns-Erin Kyle
SS1 and SS2 really good. SS3 today we had a spin at the start, it is very slippery lost approx 30 sec as we stalled, but the car is ok mechanically. Feels good and we had good tyre choice.
23 Dermott Malley-Stephen Smith
Ok. Very slippery. We made the wrong tyre choice. SS3 helicopter corner – when we hit the tarseal we had no traction, all 4 wheels were spinning.
24 Masahiro Nakajima-Naoki Kuroosaki
25 Masahiro Kunisawa-Simone Bachmann
The car is good. We chose a soft tyre and we are not very happy with that.
26 Fan Fan-Jun Wai Fang
The car is ok, but the boss is a bit sleepy but doesn’t really want to continue.
27 Hideaki Ito-Ryuii Horikawa
28 Caodong Liu-Jianbang Mei
Damaged in SS3. Out of rally