Crocker leads APRC points after 3rd round win

Cody Crocker from Australia easily won Round 3 of the 2006 Asia Pacific Rally Championship at Rotorua, New Zealand. The roads east of Rotorua are some of the toughest and most notorious in world rallying and the weather conditions on day one were atrocious with heavy rain making roads slippery and treacherous. However Crocker kept his head coming 2nd overall in the event (Kiwi star Richard Mason won the event by 8 seconds) and winning the APRC battle. The win puts the 3-times Australian Champion back in the lead of the APRC driver points race after taking maximum points from both Canberra and Rotorua.

The first day of competition was a real marathon with 170 kilometers of competitive stages and featuring one of the worlds longest and toughest rally roads the 47 km Motu – a twisty mountain stage with hundreds of corners and gear-changes. Crocker and co-driver Ben Atkinson had over 50 pages of pace notes for this one stage!! Adding to the challenge was torrential rain making conditions slippery, treacherous and visibility at times near impossible.

Crocker immediately set the pace in the APRC category and was only a few seconds off the overall lead for most of the 1st leg. Then on stage 5 as the rain started to ease off, Crocker put in a blinder on the very fast Rakuroa stage, snatching the lead off Mason by 5 seconds and holding it to the end of the leg. Back at Matawai final service Crocker said “the Motu stage was an amazing experience – it was tight and twisty while the rain made it tough. It was the longest and most challenging stage I’ve done in a long time.

Holding 2nd in APRC was Crocker’s team-mate Eli Evans, that is until Stage 4 when the young Australian miss-heard a pace-note and slid off the road, through a fence and down a bank. While the car was undamaged Evans and co-driver Matt McAdam couldn’t get back on the road, retiring from the overall event, but returning on Day 2 to go for bonus points.

Evans demise was Indonesian driver Rifat Sungkar’s opportunity to slot into second albeit 8 minutes behind Crocker. Sungkar had taken delivery of a brand new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 one day before the event and was enjoying the extra torque and power from the new car built by Reece Jones Rallysport.

Third in APRC at the end of leg one was Brian Green in the Wan Yu Rally team Mitsubishi, having a great run for his new Chinese based team.

The most spectacular driving was coming Mark Tapper, the young kiwi debuting a brand new M-Sport Ford Feista. While the car doesn’t have the power of his usual Mitsubishi, the handling and braking of the car are exceptional and he put on a spectacular show in the rain and mud – and embarrassing many of the faster 4WD cars. Unfortunately his entry in APRC had been disallowed due to a paper-work mix-up but at the end of Leg 1 the 2WD normally aspirated 2-litre Feista was in 7th overall in the rally.

The second day of the event dawned a little brighter and the sun soon came out. However the roads were still very wet and the Rotorua service park was shifted to higher and drier ground. The battle continued between Crocker and Mason, with Crocker holding an 11 second lead after the first set of stages around the lakes of Rotorua. Then on stage 11 Mason made his move going 18 seconds quicker than Crocker and taking the lead by 6 seconds and increasing that margin slightly by the finish to 8 seconds. For Crocker though the APRC win was what he came to New Zealand for and he won by a massive 15 minutes over nearest APRC rival Sungkar. “I was surprised by Richard Mason pulling it out of the hat,” Crocker said. “I had a few moments with braking today. It is a very different rally to that in Australia. This event has lots more corners and is much harder on the body, and harder to keep the concentration up. Overall I am thrilled to be in the lead in the Asia Pacific Championship and looking forward to the next rally in Japan.”

While a long way behind Crocker, Rifat Sungkar drove a sensible rally at a fast, but safe pace to finish in 2nd pace for APRC and 6th overall. With the extreme weather conditions this was the right approach and netted Sungkar his second APRC podium place in as many rallies – the Mitsubishi driver also finished 2nd in Rally of New Caledonia one month ago. ” I really like the fast New Zealand roads and the new car has made a big difference. Out strategy is to score points consistently and so far we are on track – with this result we remain in 2nd position. We did have some luck – we were very close to rolling over a bank this morning, the car was on two wheels but fortunately it came back down again and we continued on, but my team-mate (Aksa) was not so lucky he crashed off on the same corner – maybe its called Indonesian corner!”, said Sungkar at the finish.

Unfortunately for Brian Green the day was a disaster with his engine expiring and his podium finish disappearing in a cloud of blue smoke. ” I had started to make my victory speech in my head – never has the saying ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ been more true!!. I’m totally gutted’, said a disappointed Green back at the service park. His only consolation was that his team-boss Fan Fan took over the 3rd place and held it to the finish. ” I really like the New Zealand roads and I hope I can come back again, they are fantastic fun. Our team did a great job” said a delighted Fan Fan.

Dermott Malley from New Zealand continued his strong finishing record, although he was disappointed not to have had another podium finish. Malley’s wife Linzi is his co-driver and unfortunately on the first day she suffered with a bad bout of car sickness bought on by the twisty undulating roads of the Motu and Whakarua stages. On the second leg it was the car’s turn to feel sick and the unlucky pair drove most of the leg with no power from the turbo.

Mark Tapper found the faster roads on Day 2 didn’t suit the lower powered Feista and dropped a position to 8th overall. However if he’d been registered for APRC points Tapper would have finished 3rd and on the podium.

The manufacturers championship is very close with Mitsubishi just ahead on 34 points, 2 ahead of Subaru.

The next round of the Asia-Pacific Championship is Rally Hokkaido in Japan on July 7-9. With the leading competitors having each dropped a round, every event will now count in the battle for the 2006 championship honours