The 2005 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship commences its journey through Asia on Japan’s island of Hokkaido in two weeks time. For the first time Rally Hokkaido will be held in mid-summer when many say the island, free of the high humidity, rainy season of the rest of the country, is at its best.
The APRC crews must be hoping this holds true for the rally roads as, so far this year, they have had to endure a blindingly dusty Canberra, a wet and slippery New Caledonia and a less wet but equally slippery Rotorua.
Current points leader, Finn Jussi Valimaki is also hoping the move to a more familiar northern hemisphere forest setting that will counter the hometown advantage of arch rival, Toshi Arai. Valimaki’s two APRC wins so far this year have both owed something to the misfortune of others, so nothing would please him more than to score a clear victory at Rally Hokkaido.
Arai and his Subaru Impreza will be Valimaki’s biggest challenge. He has been in devastating form this season, not only in the APRC, but also in the Production Car World Rally Championship, which he currently leads. In addition, though not in the APRC section of Rally Japan last year, he was clearly fastest Group N competitor.
If past form is taken into account then Valimaki’s team-mate at MRF Tyres, Taguchi Katsuhiko could well be the one standing on top of the podium at this year’s rally.
However, he first must shake off the jinx that has so far kept him off it in Hokkaido. Remarkably, Katsu has led or been fighting for the lead there every year since 2001, only to be denied a result, often within sight of the finish!
Added to the usual difficulty in predicting the result is the fact that every stage at Rally Hokkaido except the 2.7km Rikubetsu Circuit Special is new. Two Special Stage venues are completely new while the remainder are being run in the reverse direction. This is to avoid them being used as practice for the WRC round, later in the year. This levelling of the playing field could produce a surprise winner, as much more will depend on accurate pacenoting and the ability to quickly adapt to a variety of unfamiliar road surfaces. Thirty-two crews have entered this fourth round of the APRC, with a further forty-five cars running behind in the accompanying national round.
Rally Hokkaido will take place within the sub-prefecture of Tokachi from July 22-24. The rally base will be at the Kibou Gaoka Rally Park. This is conveniently located close to the Otofuke business area and only 8km north of Central Obihiro City.