Finland’s Jussi Valimaki won the opening round of the 2007 Asia Pacific Rally Championship, held on the beautiful tropical island paradise of New Caledonia. Close behind came his MRF team-mate Katsu Taguchi from Japan and third was local driver Patrick Yanai – all driving Mitsubishi Lancers.
The event started on Friday (13th) in brilliant sunshine, with a ceremonial start in downtown Noumea followed by a super-special that made up the first two stages, The MRF Mitsubishi team immediately set the pace with Taguchi and Valimaki finishing on identical times for the first stage., The second night-time run through the super-special, Indian driver Naren Kumar in the Team India Mitsubishi was quickest, going one second faster than his countryman Garev Gill driving for the MRF Mitsubishi team. Equal second was Valimaki.
The next morning the event moved to Poya, 200 kilometres north of Noumea to run over 3 stages, 3 times and a total for the leg of 156 kilometres of competition. With the roads fast and dry Valimaki was fastest on Stage 3, but not far behind was team-mate Taguchi. The Japanese driver had won here in 2006 and on the longer and trickier Stage 4, Taguchi made his charge easily winning the stage, then going quickest on all remaining stages of the day to lead the event by 24 seconds at the end of leg 1. At the final service a satisfied Taguchi said “We’re very happy to be leading, everything went well today, the car is good and the roads very nice – just sometimes the grip can be difficult to predict’. Valimaki was second and happy to back in the APRC, “Today was OK for me, just getting used to driving the Group N Mitsubishi again and MRF tyres. Tomorrow is big day so we will wait and see”.
Third behind the two MRF cars was yet another Mitsubishi Lancer driven by New Caledonian driver Patrick Yanai. “We are happy to have a good start to our Asia-Pacific campaign, but tomorrow is difficult”.
Fourth spot was held by New Caledonian Jean-Louis Leyraud in a Subaru, 3 minutes off the leaders and slightly off the pace after running for most of the day with no 4th gear. The gearbox was changed by the Cusco Subaru team during the final service break, while their own driver Hiroshi Yanigisawa had made a rare mistake on Stage 9, bending the rear suspension link. Yanagisawa made repairs at the end of the stage, but the Japanese pair were 7 minutes late checking into the next control. In the following stage they were forced to stop for another minute and tighten a loose bolt – car number one finished the day in 5th.
Following the two Subarus was Naren Kumar in 6th taking his time to get used to the car, the roads and the very different conditions Kumar’s team-mate Brian Green was holding 7th and New Caledonian Robert Christian in his first ever international rally in 8th spot.
A major retirement was MRF’s Garev Gill, the young Indian going way too quick for his relative in experience and having a huge crash near the end of stage 3. Luckily no-one was hurt, but the car was a total right-off. Other APRC retirements included Patrick Christian and Daniel Palau, both retiring with damaged cars.
The second leg although shorter, featured the treacherous Katrikoin stage – 28 kilometres of twisty mountain road and recent rain had made parts of the road muddy and slippery. Although the day was fine and hot, Valimaki opted for mud tyres on the first loop and it proved to be the best choice as he took the lead , leading Taguchi by 6 seconds. For the second run the two drivers again decided on a different tyre choice – Valimaki staying with muds and Taguchi a cut dry tyre. Although the weather hot and sunny, the roads under the canopy favoured Valimaki’s choice and he extended his lead to win by 19 seconds. Prior to the finish podium the 2005 APRC champion said ” I think we did an excellent tyre choice today, especially for the long stage the mud tyres worked perfectly. Also the car and the suspension works well with these tyres – I was very confident about what we are doing. For the next event we need to do some more testing and I think there is some time we can gain yet.”
Taguchi was a little disappointed to have lost his lead after driving so well, “Jussi and me chose two totally different tyres, but for me it is the correct one – we drive quite differently and I am alot more sideways and it doesn’t suit the mud tyre. Next time it could be different. I am pleased that we have 13 points for the championship and we still have five more events to go yet – lots can happen. I believe my driving has improved so I’m looking forward to the next rally for our team, Rally of Canberra in Australia.
New Caledonian Patrick Yania kept his third place, although he briefly lost it after a bad tyre choice on the first run through Katrikoin. Fouth in APRC was Naren Kumar in the Team India Mitsubishi picking up an extra bonus point for 3rd fastest on Leg 2. Robert Christian was the only other APRC finisher after several retirements on the final stages.
Subaru was the major loser with both Leyraud and Yanagisawa retiring. Leyraud was first to go, a moments loss of concentration on a slippery concrete ford saw the local veteran slide off. Although there was no major damage, the car was stuck between the concrete bridge and a small tree. Yanagisawa passed the stricken Subaru and was possibly on his way to going into 3rd overall, when suddenly the engine expired. The team had been concerned at the amount of oil they were pouring into the engine and couldn’t believe there luck, their first engine problem in 3 years. Kiwi Brian Green also retired with differential problems in his Mitsubishi after on trck for a good finish.
Although not classified in the APRC runners New Zealander Marty Rosternburg finished 5th overall, after winning stage 3 outright and then rolling on stage 4.
The next event is Rally of Whangarei New Zealand on 11-13 May (NB: MRF Mitsubishi will skip this event).
RALLYE DE NOUVELLE CALEDONIE 2007 – FINAL OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATION
1. VALIMAKI Jussi / KALLIOLEPO Jarkko, MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO IX, 02:54:15
2. TAGUCHI Katsu / STACEY Mark, MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO IX, +00:00:19
3. YANAI Patrick / YANAI Dominique, MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO VIII, +00:04:48
4. NAREN KUMAR V.R. / RAMKUMAR D., MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO IX, 00:06:16
5. ROSTENBURG Marty / HARNETT Greg, MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO VIII, +00:16:57
6. CLAVEL Claude / TOJIB Jean-Luc, SUBARU IMPREZA, +00:21:37
7. CHRISTIAN Robert / LETHEZER Yannick, MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO VI, +00:21:57