Crocker Takes Honours in Malaysia

Australian Cody Crocker in a LWR Subaru Impreza kept his perfect winning record in the 2006 Asia Pacific Rally Championship by winning the Malaysia Rally held in Johor Baru, South Malaysia. The Malaysian event was the 5th round of the championship and one of the most physically difficult, with ambient temperatures of 35-40 degrees C and inside the rally cars temperatures often exceeded 50 degrees!! With all stages in the nearby Palm Oil plantations the road conditions varied considerably, from dry and dusty to slippery mud, with hundreds of junctions to keep the drivers and co-drivers working.

From the out-set it looked like it was going to be a great battle. As the teams arrived for the stages on Saturday morning, overnight rain had made the roads very wet and slippery and it was interesting to see the wide choice of tyres as the cars lined up for the first stage. Most were on a cut rally tyre, but Crocker and his team-mate Eli Evans opted for a conservative approach and used a standard rally tyre, while the MRF Mitsubishi’s showed up with full muds!!

It only took 4 kilometres of rallying for the dramas to start – Fan Fan from China on mud tyres and seeded number 7, crashed and blocked the road on Stage 1. Starting behind him were Subhan Aksa (Indonesia), Jarkko Miettinen (Finland) and Brian Green (New Zealand). These three drivers were forced to stop and were later given accessed times from their finish position on Stage 2. For Miettinen who had a turbo problem on stage 2 his assessed time was a lot slower than it should have been and put him a full 1 minute 18 seconds behind the rally leader. The only consolation was that the leader was his team-mate Taguchi – mud tyres for these stages were the right choice.

With plenty of previous experience in Malaysia, Taguchi had absolutely blitzed the field on the 28 kilometre stage 1, going a full 27 seconds faster than Crocker(2nd), 52 seconds quicker than Evans(3rd) and over a minute clear of Yanagisawa. In stage 2 Taguchi went fastest again to lead the event at the first service break by 33 seconds from Crocker. The battle for third was very tight with three drivers separated by 8 seconds – 3rd held by Evans 1 minute and 26 seconds behind leader Taguchi , Yangisawa 2 seconds back and 4th, while Miettinen was 5th and 1.32 behind his team-mate.

Stage 3 saw the lead change and one of the championship contenders crash. Taguchi again starting on mud tyres punctured 4 kilometers into the 28 km stage and was forced to stop and change mid-stage, loosing nearly 4 minutes to Crocker and dropping down the order to 6th in APRC. The Japanese driver was bitterly disappointed but happy to be still in the event, unlike fellow Mitsubishi driver Rifat Sungkar – stage 3 was the end of his dream run in the APRC drivers championship.

The Indonesian had started the stage in 6th place, but 10 kilometres into the slippery stage crashed out of the event in a big way! “We were on long fast right and the car appeared to momentarily loose power – we slid wide and hit a small concrete bridge on the left rear, almost rolled and then spun around and damaged the right side. The car is very bent but we hope to have it ready for my home event in Indonesia next month” said a very disappointed Sungkar afterwards.

With others around him having dramas, it was Crocker who found himself in his regular spot – leading the event for the LWR Subaru team and backed up by Yanagisawa in the CUSCO Subaru. However Yangisawa’s 2nd position was under threat by the fast charging Miettinen now only 14 second behind in 3rd and 1 second further back in 4th was Crocker’s young team-mate Eli Evans.

By Stage 4 and the lunch-break Miettinen had widened the gap to Evans to 15 seconds and closed up further on Yanagisawa and was only 11 seconds from second place. For the moment Crocker had a comfortable lead and could afford to ease off in the incredible heat “the biggest problem is dehydration and when you get dehydrated you start loosing concentration and it plays on your mind” said Crocker has he gulped down another litre of fluids. Taguchi had recovered some of the time lost earlier and was now 5th and 3 minutes and 20 seconds behind Crocker.

Having his best event of the year was New Zealander Brian Green holding 6th spot in the Wan Yu Rally team Mitsubishi, with Subhan Aksa 30 seconds back in 7th. Kiwi Dermott Malley lost 10 minutes in stage 4, after hitting one of the concrete bridges and bending a steering arm so badly, he had to make mid-stage repairs.

The afternoon stages were an exact repeat of the morning and it was the MRF team that came out firing – Taguchi and Miettinen taking equal fastest times on stage 5 (stage 1 in the morning), seven seconds faster than Crocker. Yanagisawa had a slow time and lost his 2nd spot to Miettinen. The MRF Mitsubishi pair repeated their fast times on stage 6, although it was Miettinen who was fastest overall, 2 seconds quicker than his Japanese team-mate with Yanagisawa 3rd and Crocker 4th. Overall the positions hadn’t changed but Taguchi was now only 30 seconds behind Evans and closing in on 4th spot, while Miettinen was edging closer to leader Crocker, but the gap was still 1 minute and 31 seconds.

Unfortunately any hope of Miettinen catching Crocker evaporated on Stage 6 and 7. An afternoon rain-storm lashed the service park and Miettinen gambled on mud tyres for the final days stages. But as ever in Malaysia it can rain on one corner and not on another, the stages were 10 kilometres from the service-park, didn’t get the downpour and after a days sun – were dry and dusty. Consequently Miettinen fried his tyres in the heat, arriving back at service with little or no rubber left on them and seeing the gap to catch Crocker now 2 minutes and 16 seconds.

“The early part of the afternoon was good for us, my new co-driver and I got into a nice rhythm. Unfortunately with the rain coming down during service, we decided to go for mud-tyres for the final stages, but it was the wrong choice – the roads were dry!!” said Miettinen at the final service of Leg 1.

For LWR Subaru it was business as usual leading the event with a healthy margin, but still mindful of the conditions ‘we’re in a good position, but can’t afford to relax yet. If it rains tomorrow anything could happen” said Crocker.

Further down the field, after looking like a good result Brian Green retired on a touring stage from damage caused by another concrete bridge in Stage 6. At the end of the leg Subhan Aksa was in 5th and one minute in front of Eli Evans “tomorrow we have to push hard to keep in front Eli – if I can finish in 5th it will be my best international result” said Aksa.

With no overnight rain, the next morning the roads were dry and Crocker won the first two stages by a couple of seconds from Taguchi and Miettinen. The longer third stage of Leg 2, was easily won by Taguchi and at the same time he moved into 3rd overall, after Yanagisawa lost time with a bent steering arm. Taguchi won two more stages and although it was impossible to bridge the gap to 1st and 2nd place, the former APRC champion at least came away from the event with 3 extra bonus for winning the leg. It could easily have been a very different result, if it had not been for the puncture on stage 3. ‘ That’s rallying and sometimes you have some luck and sometimes you don’t. I’m very happy with today, the car is good and looking forward to Indonesia’ .

Miettinen had his best APRC finish of the year and was very happy with the development of the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 “the car was very very good, I really like the new Evo 9. I’ve never driven before in these really hot conditions, that was a small problem for me”.

Crocker again showed he is one of the worlds top drivers by winning a very tough event – and one that he’d never competed in before. Underlining his dominance of the APRC this year, the Australian has scored 63 points from a possible maximum score of 64. “This event was vital to us, being the first time we’ve been here, and we couldn’t afford any mistakes or problems,” Crocker said. “But we kept right out of trouble all weekend and the car has been fantastic once again. When you have confidence in your car it gives you so much more confidence to drive harder.It was incredibly hot, getting to around 45 degrees in the car and when the sun came out it was absolutely scorching. But we’ve come through well. Ben (Atkinson) did a great job calling the notes and we now have a handy 24 point buffer, which is getting to the point of giving us some confidence that we can win this championship.”

Hiroshi Yanagisawa slipped down to 4th on Day 2, but was happy to finish well. “We didn’t push too hard today, we just wanted to finish and gain experience.” Subhan Aksa had some engine problems on the final stages, but Evans also had a puncture (another concrete bridge!!) and lost time, therefore their positions didn’t change. It was Aksa’s best result in APRC and bodes well for his home event in Indonesia. Dermott Malley was the only other finisher in APRC coming home in 7th spot.

The next event in the APRC is Gudang Garam Rally of Indonesia, held on the island of Sulawesi 15-17 September. Indonesia is likely to be even hotter than Malaysia, but with less humidity.

Results – 2006 Rally Malaysia (Provisional)
1 C Crocker (Aus), B Atkinson (Aus), Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2 J Miettinen (Fin), L Malley (Fin), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +2 mins 34 secs
3 K Taguchi (J), M Stacey (Aus), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, +2:36
4 H Yanagisawa (J), T Misaizu (J), Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +4:54
5 R Sungkar (RI), R Swarwano (RI), Proton Pert, + 12:34
6 S Aksa (RI)/ H Mboi (RI), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, +14:16
7 E Evans (Aus), C Murphy (Aus), Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +16:56
8 D Malley (NZ), S Malley (NZ), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, +27:58

APRC Points (Provisional)
1 C Crocker (Australia), Subaru, 63
2 K Taguchi (Japan), Mitsubishi, 39
3 R Sungkar (Indonesia), Mitsubishi, 31
4 H Yangisawa, Japan, 26q
5 E Evans, (Australia), Subaru, 19q
6 J Mietten (Finland), Mitsubishi, 16