Blue team versus the Red Team

This weekends (21-23 October) 17th International Rally of Thailand looks like being a show-down between the 2005 Asia Pacific Rally Champion Jussi Valimaki from Finland and the current leader in the Production World Rally Championship Toshi Arai from Japan. These two have battled it out right from the start of the Asia Pacific championship and generally Arai has come out on top, but since Canberra Valimaki has driven with the championship in mind. Now with the APRC title decided in his favor ‘Fast Jussi’ has the opportunity to go for an all out win and the faster conditions in Thailand should suit the Finn’s style and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8.

For Subaru’s Toshi Arai the 2005 APRC has been used more as a training ground to keep him sharp for his main quest – the P-WRC crown. With only one more round to go in that championship the WRC Rally of Australia, Arai is leading the points race, but there are two strong competitors behind him that could still take the championship if Arai is not on the pace in Perth. As a build-up for the final, Rally of Thailand is perfect for Arai – and to stay match-fit he could have no better competitor than Valimaki as a sparring partner.

Geof Argyle from New Zealand is currently second overall in the 2005 Asia Pacific Rally Championship standings after last month’s Indonesia event and is determined to finish the year in that position. Thailand is familiar territory to the Silverstone Competition Tyres rally team, with both Geof Argyle and Brian Green having previously contested the event, albeit in more powerful Group A cars. Argyle says the roads used in Thailand are quite different to the rest of Asia and in some ways compare to Australia. “They are much faster and more flowing than Malaysia and Indonesia – similar in speed to Australia. They have that same sort of round pebble gravel layer on the roads of Canberra,” said Argyle of his previous experience.

With two drivers within 6 points of his placing, Argyle is feeling the pressure at defending his placing. “There are three of us going for the same place, and since first place is taken; they all want my spot.” Argyle added that the expected show-down between newly crowned 2005 champion Jussi Valimaki and Toshi Arai could play in to his hands. “I have only one thing to concentrate on, so any other battles could be our ticket to get home ahead of them.”

Katsu Taguchi is another competitor that will be going to Thailand determined to do well. The Japanese driver is 3rd in the points and 2 points in front of countryman Arai. After a disappointing WRC Rally of Japan where he crashed out, Taguchi will be wanting to make amends and the Thailand roads should suit his fast style.

Lined up behind Taguchi is a Dermott Malley from New Zealand and Kan Chi Hong from Malaysia both driving Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. Making a welcome one-off appearance at the championship is Italian Nico Caldarola (a past APRC winner and Group N champion) who for this one event has taken over Fan Fan’s car. Other entries include Argyle’s team Brian Green and Mitsuhiro Kunisawa from Japan.

Event Description: Rayong city is located on the coastal edge of Rayong Province and is located 220km south east of Bangkok. It is an area that is relatively unspoilt, but well known for its beaches, good food and fresh tropical fruit. Rally Headquarters is at the Star Plaza, and is located in the centre of Rayong.

Thailand’s recorded history extends back to a bronze age about 5,600 years ago. Since then the country has seen three distinct dynasties – the Sukhotahi, Ayutthaya and the Chakri. They have influence from the Khmer and Burmese cultures, but are very proud to have never been colonised by any European countries. Until the middle of the 20 th century, the country was known as Siam.

It is the 17 th International Rally of Thailand. 2002 saw the introduction of the Kings Cup Trophy, and direct support from the royal family of Thailand. In 2004 the event was run as a candidate round for the APRC and in 2005 it is run again in APRC. Prior to this, however, Thailand has held rounds of the APRC and saw many of the worlds best rally drivers competing, including Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Tommi Makinen and Kenneth Eriksson.

Leg 1 and Leg 2 are both located north of Rayong, about 40km from Rally HQ. The route on both days travels through villages and rubber plantations. The gravel roads are smooth and fast, in parts both wide and narrow. Last year saw plenty of dust, but this year will depend (as always) on the weather. There is a fast and picturesque stage that runs beside the lakes of Nong Pla Lai Reservoir. Due to the effects of recent heavy rain the location of SS 7/9, has changed to Neunsamran with a total distance 25.02 kms.

Current 2005 APRC Driver Points
1. J Valimaki (Fin) 71
2. G Argyle (NZ) 42
3. K Taguchi (Jpn) 37
4. T Arai (Jpn) 35