After two rounds its “One-All” in the fight for the 2007 Asia Pacific Rally Championship title.
Round one was on the tropical island of New Caledonia and was won by 2005 Asia Pacific champion Jussi Valimaki, who returned to the series after a year in the WRC. Valimaki took the lead on the 2nd day from his team-mate Katsu Taguchi. Both MRF Mitsubishi drivers were in a class of their own, finishing over 4 minutes ahead of their nearest rival New Caledinian Patrick Yania, also in a Mitsubishi.
If round 1 was an all Mitsubishi podium, round 2 was the complete opposite with Subaru securing the top four spots in APRC.
Rally of Whangarei was the NZ leg and marked the return of last years champion Cody Crocker with a new sponsor and new team. “We’ve signed a 2-year deal with Motor Image (Singapore) and this gives us some long-term commitment to build on” said Crocker prior to the start. The Australian champion is joined in 2007 by Rifat Sungkar, the young Indonesian earning his drive with several podiums and a strong finish in last years APRC.
As MRF Mitsubishi opted to drop the New Zealand round (teams register for six of the seven rounds) it became a Subaru benefit with Crocker taking the top spot, Japan’s Hiroshi Yanagisawa in the Cusco Subaru 2nd and Sungkar bringing it home third for the Motor Image team. Adding weight to Subaru’s dominance was New Caledonia Jean-Louis Leyraud.
The next round in Canberra Australia (1-3 June) is the first event of the year where the main contenders will all meet, excepting Yanagisawa who has dropped this round.
Crocker is on his home event and understandably confident ‘ Bring it on – yea there’s a bit of competition this year with Valimaki, Taguchi and Yanagisawa all driving well – we gotta keep ourselves focused and on the task.
Valimaki is not fazed by taking on Crocker on home territory “Of course its always easier for a driver on his home roads, but still I’ve quite positive feelings now, it will be a big battle, big fight. I think in Canberra we will have good pace – we need to have of course.’ said Valimaki after winning in New Caledonia.
Team-mate Katsu Taguchi is equally confident he can win. The Japanese driver led for most of the New Caledonian event, but lost out to Valimaki through tyre choice. Looking ahead to Canberra Taguchi said “Jussi chose the mud tyre that was the correct choice for him – but this tyre doesn’t suit my sideways style and it is better to finish 2nd than loose time and points with a puncture. Overall I’m very happy with my driving and I think I can win in Canberra”.
A battle to watch in Canberra will be between Indonesian Rifat Sungkar and India’s Naren Kumar. The Team India driver had a dismal time in New Zealand with gearbox problems and punctures, but has so far this year set quick times when things have gone well. Sungkar has the benefit of Crocker’s knowledge and quickly got to grips with his new Subaru New Zealand. Both drivers have competed in Canberra before, Kumar in 2002 with the MRF team and Sungkar last year with the Indonesian Rally Team.
With its base in the Australian capital Canberra – and stages in the nearby forests, the Rally of Canberra begins in Friday 1st June and finishes 3rd June.
For more information visit www.roc.com.au and www.rally.com.au/events/canberra07/results/