A lot has happened in the 12 months since Rifat Singkar, Indonesia’s highest-profile rally driver, claimed a podium on debut. Driving a Lancer Evo 9, Sungkar survived the mush and slush of Rally China 2006, 3rd place the perfect start to his APRC career.
Now coming to the end of his first full-time season in the APRC, Rifat finds himself in a very different position; fighting Cusco Racing driver Hiroshi Yanagisawa for fourth place in the championship.
Although both Rifat and Hiroshi currently sit behind Naren Kumar in the championship standings, the six-time Indian champion won’t be at Rally China next month. With drivers allowed to score points in maximum six of seven rounds, Naren has completed his season with a four point lead over Rifat, and just single point ahead of Hiroshi.
Speaking from Jakata, the young Indonesian Sunkar is confident he can beat the experienced Yanagisawa. “The points standing is still wide open for fourth, with Hiroshi and Naren Kumar.”
“In China, it’s narrow and twisty in some stages, and the other stages are very dangerous. But my car this year is so much better than last year. The car is so easy to handle, but Hiroshi is driving the same car. It will be tough competition but, for sure, I’ll do better than the previous rally in Makassar.”
Part of Sungkars confidence is due to the improvement he has seen in himself, the Motor Image team working with Rifat to improve his skills in the car. “They have helped improve my speed and consistency, and my team-mates Cody and Toshi Arai have helped me a lot to improve my speed. And the other ones are my mechanics; because of them, I am driving a proper rally car that can compete in the top three positions.”
The other area Sungkar has improved is with his pace notes. Bringing in the experienced Bill Hayes to sit in the co-driver seat for Rally Japan has paid dividends in the second half of the season, although adjusting to pace notes in English took some time.
“That was difficult for one event. But after that I had a big improvement in the notes. In English, the information is fixed. (Before) in Indonesian…we used a lot of ‘maybe’ in every corner…it was not 100% sure. But after learning from Bill, I found a lot of improvement and he taught me how to make proper and consistent notes.”
And while Rifats immediate goal is capture fourth place in the championship, he’s already looking to 2008 and beyond, having signed for a second year with Motor Image. “In terms of the Indonesian championship, the APRC is big, big stepping stone for me. My (goal) for the first year is to compete against those guys who have (a lot of) experience in the APRC. I believe that in my third year I can compete in the top three, and hopefully in the fourth year I can be the APRC champion. After that, I’ll be looking for (a drive in) in either the PWRC or JWRC.”