Next weekends Rally of Canberra will be the first time the main contenders for the APRC 2008 crown compete head-to-head.
After a dominant performance in New Caledonia, Katsu Taguchi starts Canberra full of confidence, and it’s an event that seems to suit his driving style. His MRF team-mate Scott Pedder will be keen to bounce-back after his day 2 ‘off’ in Noumea, Canberra being his ‘local’ round of the series, as it is for Dean Herridge who won this event in 2004.
But the man they all want to beat is two-time champ Cody Crocker. Although he starts the year with a new baby girl at home and a new 2008-spec Subaru Impreza to drive (from the NZ round onwards), very little has changed in his MotorImage team. And Canberra is an event he’s won outright four times in the past.
I managed to catch up with Cody before the New Caledonia round and get his ‘take’ on the season ahead.
BM: Cody, all these new drivers and teams look as though they’ll be really strong opposition for you.
CC: Absolutely. The championship has been building over the last few years. It’s becoming very strong now, and it’s only going to be good for the championship. And it’s a real challenge for us to see if we can beat them. Now that we’ve won it twice, we’ll be bitterly disappointed if we don’t win it again.
We think we’ve learned from the last few years, and we’ve got better and better each year. And we think our approach to the rallies gives us a good chance…the mental approach of the whole team. But, the competition is always getting stronger and we can never afford to stand still. We’ve got to improve, and we’ll be concentrating pretty heavily on the test car to make sure we get a better car than we have last year.
Definitely strong competition. But it’s always hard to tell. There’s always a pretty high attrition in these events because the pace is so high, and things break and people break things. But I’m really looking forward to it…it’s going to be a great championship. It’s probably what the ARC (Australian Rally Championship) was like a couple of years ago with a number of top competitors in it, and it was probably at its peak for a long time there, and now we’re seeing that in the APRC. It can only be a good thing.
BM: I guess unfortunately for you, your home event is also the home round for Pedder and Herridge. It’s going to be a critical rally for you to get as many points before the new car comes in.
CC: Obviously the aim is to get maximum points; we don’t want to settle for anything less. Even if we have the old car for that event, we’ll make sure we have a perfect car. The MRF guys are dropping China, so that will mean they’re one round ahead of us in the points, so if we can catch up to them early on then that would be fantastic.
From the results point-of-view, I don’t think it will be as easy as it seemed over the past couple of years. It certainly wasn’t easy but we seemed to get maximum points at just about every event.
BM: If you look back a couple of years, did you ever think you’d be in the position where one more championship in the APRC puts you equal with the likes of Karamjit Singh, Possum Bourne and Kenneth Ericsson (as the only drivers to win 3 times)?
CC: It’s always on my mind. At times you look at those results and the stats and think ‘ohh…I just need one more here’. The ARC is a bit far-fetched to go for seven, (equal) with Possum. But it’s a great think to know that we can achieve that sort of thing and we’re got a real chance of doing it.
I’ve always looked at myself as the inexperienced driver…always learning. And if I keep that sort of mentality, then maybe that will help me. You won’t sit on top and think ‘I’m the best’, because I can guarantee that as soon as you do, you’ll get knocked straight off.
So you just try and keep the approach of trying to learn something in every event. And we’ve got lots and lots of data now from several years of doing these events.
And I think it’s those little things where you learn to make the right decisions. You look at the really top drivers and they always seem to make the right decisions. And what was that based on? It’s always based on what you’ve learned and the experience you’ve got, and you tend to make better decisions that way. And maybe that’s what’s been working for us in the last few years. So we’ve just got to keep using that to our advantage.
BM: It must be a bit of a challenge for you, with the new car coming in, to be the lead driver and the guy who has to do the bulk of the work in testing and the shaking down the car?
CC: I always look forward to that, and it gives you position where you can, not steer the development, but be a great part of that development and that’s fantastic. And when you get great results, you can be proud of that.
But is such a team effort. We’ve got a great engineer in David Potter who, in the last several years, has given us a perfect car to start with. So you’re not chasing a set-up and by the end of the year you think ‘we’re happy with that’. From the first event, that car is absolutely fantastic and we hardly make a change to it. And that’s something we’ve acquired over the years. You find the people who work well with you, and you want to hold onto them because that’s where you get your advantage.
And it’s great that we’ve got the opportunity to develop the new car as well. It’s been rallied already and I think they were under pretty tight time frames to get those cars ready for Sweden and the PWRC. Our car, we’ve got a bit of time to look at all the data from those guys and see what their feedback is and where they had trouble. The new car is always going to be unknown, so you’ve got to do a bit of trial and error to some extent. So we can do a bit of learning based on what they’ve got, and get a bit of a head-start.
Rally Canberra starts on Saturday May 10, so keep checking back at www.aprclive.com for updates.
Photos courtesy of aprc.tv