The 2007 Asia Pacific Rally Championship begins next weekend (13-15 April) with Round 1 on the Pacific Island of New Caledonia.
Entries for this year’s championship are some of the best for many years and making a welcome return to the championship is the 2005 APRC champion Jussi Valimaki(FIN) again driving for Team MRF Mitsubishi. The Finn’s team-mate will be Japanese driver Katsuhiko Taguchi, also a former APRC champion and these two will make a formidable team with a huge amount of experience and speed between them. Their main challenge in New Caledonia will come from another Japanese driver Hiroshi Yanagisawa, who on his first attempt at the championship in 2006 finished 2nd overall – and is looking to go one step better in 2007. Hiroshi Yanagisawa is new to this event, but he proved last year that he learns quickly and finished on the podium four times in 2006 even though it was his first time in APRC.
While these international drivers may start as favourites do not discount the local APRC entrants of Team New Caledonia ,a total of six cars driven by Patrick Yanai, Patrick Christian, Jean Louis Leyraud, Daniel Palau, Alexis Barbou and Robert Christian. The Team New Caledonia drivers will have the benefit of local knowledge, in particular on Sunday when there are two new stages that will be unfamiliar to the international crews. Patrick Yanai and Patrick Christian finished first and second respectively in the national championship in 2006, and Jean Louis Leyraud has many years of experience in APRC and other international events.
Two drivers from India will create massive publicity for the APRC in that country, with Naren Kumar the more internationally experienced and teamed with Reece Jones Motorsport. Kumar is a former Asia Zone Rally champion, a six-time winner of Indian National Rally championship and competed on APRC events in 2002 and 2004. Gaurav Gill is younger with little experience outside India, but will drive the third MRF Mitsubishi and therefore has the backing of a very strong team to guide him on his first international championship.
The ever present veteran driver Brian Green is again entered in the APRC, this year with RJM and will no doubt make his presence known, especially if the conditions get rough. Other international entries, although not entered in the APRC are kiwi’s Marty Rosternburg and Nick Marshall. An interesting entry comes from French driver Gael Lecerf who will drive a S2000 Fiat Punto.
New Caledonia is a unique event, the island being 500km long and a mere 50 km wide and part of the third largest archipelago in the Pacific Ocean after New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The New Caledonia lagoon (24,000 sq kms) is the largest in the world, with 1,600 kms of coral barrier reef being home to literally thousands of different types of marine life. Weather at this time of the year can be gloriously fine or miserably wet and temperatures moderate to cool – around 20-24 degrees C.
Rallye de Nouvelle-Caledonie begins on Friday 13th with a ceremonial start in down-town Noumea, followed by a super special at the Hippodrome. Next day the event moves 200 kilometres North for two days of fast flowing mountain roads, a total of 15 stages on 6 different locations and a total of 238 kilometres of competition. The event finish podium will have tropical island background being held on the Promenade Pierre VERNIER near the seaside at 4.30pm Sunday 15th.