The conditions were hot and humid. The stages were slippery, twisty and in some places very fast.
But MRF Mitsubishi driver Katsuhiko Taguchi from Japan used his experience of the conditions to stay cool and stay out of trouble, while all around him other competitors crashed out or retired with mechanical problems. And it makes up for last years event when Taguchi and co-driver Mark Stacey retired while leading with mechanical problems. After the event Taguchi commented, “Although there were a few tight corners and the conditions slippery in a few of the stages, I was comfortable” he said. “The roads were sometimes narrow and sometimes wide and fast. But it was both challenging and enjoyable,” he said.
Taguchi totally dominated the event, winning both legs and finishing six minutes and 26 seconds in front of nearest APRC rival Rifat Sungkar from Indonesia also driving a Mitsubishi. For Sungkar in only his 2nd APRC event, this was a fantastic result “It took a little while to get dialed into the high-speed roads, but this event the car has gone much better, so I’m very happy”.
Dermott Malley and wife Linzi from New Zealand were third and the 2nd time Malley has been on the podium in the past year, after a similar result achieved in last year’s Rally of Hokkaido. Chinese driver and team-owner Fan Fan was 4th, followed by Indonesia Rally team driver Subhan Aksa. Aksa was lucky to finish after suffering a mysterious illness on Leg 1, that left him dizzy and dehydrated.
New Caledonia was another disastrous event for MRF Mitsubishi team’s second entry Jarko Miettinen. The Finnish driver had a narrow lead over Taguchi going into the 4th stage and then on a slow hairpin bend, the nose of the car nudged the inside bank and tipped the Mitsubishi onto its roof. Although a very slow speed roll-over the bonnet was crushed and engine damage sustained, putting the crew out of the event permanently. A clearly disappointed Mittinen said afterwards “I did not push hard. I was very careful. But a small driving error saw me hit the wall. It was a big disappointment”.
New Zealander Mark Tapper moved into 2nd position with Miettinen retirement and with Taguchi way out in front and a safe distance back to 3rd, Tapper was content to maintain his position and collect his first APRC points. That plan evaporated in the water-splash on stage 6 when water ripped off the fan blades and penetrated the radiator. ‘We slowed right down and went through the water in first gear – I just can’t believe it!! The first time through it we went much faster with no damage” said Tapper afterwards. A similar problem lead to Brian Greens retirement in the 2nd of the Wan Yu Rally Team cars.
With Taguchi winning both legs (leg 2 was shortened for safety reasons) he now leads the APRC drivers championship with 23 points, followed by Sungkar and Cody Crocker equal on 16 points. The MRF Mitsubishi team is dropping the next APRC event Rally of Rotorua (May 26-28) and will return for Round 4 Rally of Hokkaido.