The heat is on in Indonesia

The 6th round of 2006 Asia Pacific Rally Championship takes place this weekend on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Predicted to be hotter than Malaysia, but with less humidity Gudang Garam Rally of Indonesia could see the APRC drivers title wrapped up by Australian Cody Crocker in his LWR Subaru Impreza. Crocker has had an almost perfect run in his first bid for the 2006 Asia-Pacific drivers title taking 63 of the 64 points available – and winning all 4 events he’s entered in the 2006 APRC.

The only other driver that has a outside chance of taking the drivers title is Katsu Taguchi from Japan with a total of 39 points – 24 behind Crocker. Over the next two events there is 32 points on offer and there are many permutations, but essentially Crocker only needs to score 8 points in Indonesia and the 2006 title is his – providing he also goes over the start ramp in China (APRC rules state you must nominate and start 6 of the 7 events in the championship). Realistically the best Taguchi can do now is win the final events for Mitsubishi and take the manufacturer’s championship, a race that is still reasonably even with Subaru currently leading on 63 points and Mitsubishi 55 points.

Rally of Indonesia will see 10 APRC drivers competing over two days and 235 kilometres of rough, sandy stages, in conditions that are dry, dusty and extremely hot. With temperatures of 40degrees C the crews will have to manage their fluid intake as they did in Malaysia – 10-12 litres a day!!

For Crocker Indonesia is new territory, but then so were the Palm Oil Plantation roads of Malaysia Rally – and he won there by 2.5 minutes. Crocker does not need to win in Indonesia, but like any sportsmen he’d like a clean sweep of wins. Having won the Australian championship 3 times, Crockers knows what is required to win and his Les Walkden Rallying Subaru has been impeccably prepared at every event. If any driver is going to break Crocker’s winning streak its likely to be Taguchi, who drove to 2nd place in Indonesia last year and therefore has some advance knowledge of the difficult conditions. Taguchi’s MRF team-mate Jarkko Miettinen from Finland as been the only other driver to regularly beat Crocker on stage times in 2006 and the new Mitsubishi Lancer 9 is rapidly finding its pace as the drivers in both APRC and P-WRC learn to balance the power and handling.

Third in the championship and on home ground is Indonesia’s Rifat Sungkar, eager to make up for the disaster in Malaysia where he wrecked his brand new Mitsubishi Lancer. Rifats younger brother Rizal will also compete in the APRC catergory in Indonesia, although he is not a registered APRC driver.

Japan’s Hiroshi Yanagisawa in the CUSCO Subaru always finishes strongly and apart from a problem in New Zealand, has always finished in the top 4 and is currently 4th in the driver points. Crockers LWR team-mate Eli Evans is 5th, a remarkable result considering the young Australian had hardly set foot outside the his home country prior to May this year. Evans is however watching his back as Jarkko Miettinen climbs rapidly up the leader-board, from having no points at all going into the Japan round the MRF driver is now only 3 points away from moving into 5th place.

Subhan Aksa from Indonesia is the youngest driver in the championship and has been getting quicker and quicker through the year. In Malaysia Aksa finished 5th overall and he will be looking to at least repeating that result, or better on his home territory. The Wan Yu Rally team from China will be in Indonesia with Fan Fan and kiwi driver Brian Green driving Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9s. After both drivers did not finish in the last round in Malaysia, this event will be an opportunity to restore confidence.

Two interesting entries for Indonesia are Mark Tapper in a Ford Fiesta and current P-WRC champion and Subaru driver Toshi Arai. Kiwi driver Tapper drove the front drive Fiesta brillantly at Rotorua and although APRC registered has missed two events this year and will not qualify. It will be interesting though to see if he can match the pace of the 4WD cars as he did in Rotorua – the Fiesta seemingly bullet proof and able to take the pounding it will likely get on the Indonesian roads. Arai’s drive is a one-off for the Motor Image Rally team, a team owned by the South East Asia Subaru distributor. Arai will have one eye on the clock through-out the event as he leaves directly from the finish ceremony on Sunday, to fly to WRC Rally of Cyprus for the next round of the P-WRC.

The Gudang Garam Rally of Indonesia begins at 17.00 this Friday with a ceremonial start in the port city of Makassar and finishes after 2 days and 235 km of competition in the same location at 17.15 on Sunday 17 September.