At the start of any sporting season its always difficult to sort the rumours from reality, the conjecture from fact
Rallying is no different and in 2008 the Asia-Pacific has attracted enormous interest and while the number of entries is still a concern, the quality of the field means that this year we should have real competition between drivers and teams. With the close of entries for Rally of New Caledonia a week ago its now possible to look at who’s in and who’s out – at least for the Pacific part of the championship.
Starting at Rally of New Caledonia confirmed entries are in for CUSCO’s two cars with Hiroshi Yanagisawa joined by Australian driver Dean Herridge, both drivers opting to continue with the tried and tested old shaped Subaru Imprezas. The team is so convinced that this is the right move they will even have a new ‘old-shaped’ car built for Yanagisawa at Hokkaido. CUSCO will be giving their young Japanese driver Yuya Sumiyama a taste of international rallying at Rally of Whangarei, although officially Sumiyama is only registered for Asia Cup. Herridge and new co-driver Chris Murphy are only entered in the Pacific Cup but rumours continue to suggest otherwise, yet the team remain tight lipped about whether they have entered the West Australian in the full APRC. Cusco will do all APRC events except Indonesia.
Team New Caledonia have entered the Pacific Cup with Jean-Louis Leyraud and Patrick Christian. Leyraud will enjoy the support of Possum Bourne Motorsport for his Subaru and for New Caledonia only, Bill Hayes will co-drive for the 57 year old driver. Patrick Christian is yet to prove himself on the APRC as he crashed out of both events he started in 2007. Although not part of Team New Caledonia, Patrick Yanai will also compete in the Pacific Cup in a Mitsubishi Evo 9. After his result in 2007 where he finished 3rd, Yanai is again expected to be a major threat to the internationals.
While there is still no official announcement from MRF, three cars have been sent to New Caledonia and entries have been received from Japanese driver Katsu Taguchi, Australian Scott Pedder and Gaurav Gill. However Gill is a doubtful starter for the first two rounds after a motorcycle accident required minor surgery and it will be some time before the young Indian driver is fully fit. Lane Heenan and Race Torque will again run the MRF Mitsubishi Evo 9’s for the team. Long-time supporter of the series Brian Green joins the field in New Caledonia in a Mitsubishi Evo 9 run by Reece Jones Motorsport.
Assuming everyone leaves New Caledonia unscathed those 9 drivers will be joined by 4 more at Rally Canberra. The Australian round sees the return of the Motor Image Subaru team and drivers Cody Crocker and Rifat Sungkar. For Canberra, Motor Image have opted to run the old-shaped car even though they plan to test a new model in back to back testing prior to the event. The new Motor Image cars will appear at Whangarei and they will run in all remaining events of the championship.
A new shaped Subaru will run in Canberra for Japanese driver Takuma Kamada, prepared and run by Arai Motorsport and partnered by his regular co-driver Naoki Kase. Kamada is one of the quickest and most experienced Japanese drivers, starting his international career on the 1998 APRC. For the past two years Kamada competed in the P-WRC, with best finish at 2007 Rally of Japan where he finished 3rd. Alex Gamayunov is the APRC’s first Russian driver and he will join Kamada and the Arai squad from Canberra onwards.
New entries are not restricted to the teams either as Yokohama Tyres joins the APRC in 2008 with a full tyre service for the CUSCO and Arai Motorsport cars. Yokohama bring a wealth of experience having competed for the past two season in the Production World Rally Championship and produce the official control tyre for the World Touring cars. The APRC will also see a one-off entry from Honda with Italian company JAS Motorsport entering a Civic Type R for current British Rally champion Guy Wilks at Rally Canberra.
Of course entries are not closed for the full APRC. Drivers and entrants have until April 18th to enter the full APRC and start at Canberra, while its possible to enter the final 3 Asian rounds and compete in the Asian Cup as late as the 25th July. One name on the Asia Cup entrylist already is Edith Weiss from Austria. Edith is planning to run in the four Asian events and will register for the final three events in the Asia Cup.
Rumours abound as to other entrants in the Asian Cup with Karamjit Singh the most talked about candidate. The conjecture surrounding Karamjit seems to be more about what car he will drive if he does return, as Proton and Singh’s former team MEM are building an S2000 car. There is no official comment on plans for the Proton S2000. Guest apperances are likely from Toshi Arai in Hokkaido and Malaysia and hopefully the current P-WRC champion can find extra backing to compete in one more Asian event to qualify for the Asia Cup.
One name sadly missing from the entry list is Finland’s Jussi Valimaki and there are no entries from China. Fan Fan’s Wan Yu Rally Team had plans to return with a top European driver but unfortunately a sponsor for the team could not be found. The Asian Cup perhaps?
Its two weeks to the start of Rally of New Caledonia where there should be a good battle between the MRF Mitsubishi’s, CUSCO and Team New Caledonia. Its an event where experience counts and the battle for the lead is likely to be between those that have been there before Taguchi, Leyraud, Yanai and Yanagisawa. However though they are new to the event, Herridge and Pedder have plenty of international experience and they will adapt very quickly. As last year, Rally of New Caledonia has a real sting in the tail – the final leg features the infamous Katrikoin, a twisty mountain stage that has been extended to 35 kilometres – and run two times. Its going to be an interesting season.