Crocker raises the dust to lead rally

Asia-Pacific champions Cody Crocker and co-driver Ben Atkinson dropped two stages to rival Scott Pedder but have developed a comfortable 38.8sec lead after an eventful day one in the Rally of Canberra today.

The day was not without its trials for the top-seeded Motor Image Subaru crew when twice during special stage one Crocker had to stamp hard on the brakes to avoid hitting kangaroos which had strayed onto the rally road. “It was a bit of a scare because this mob of kangaroos jumped across the road in front of us and then because the road doubled back on itself, the same mob kept going and jumped across in front of us again,” Crocker said. “We made a good tyre choice for the first part of the rally and managed to get a little bit of a buffer over the others so I could afford to be a little bit cautious later on. “The car was perfect but we’ll need to think through our tyre strategy for tomorrow now that the road conditions have changed.”

Japan’s Katsu Taguchi, who has posted the fastest time during shakedown, had an early finish to his day when the fuel pump shorted out in his MRF Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV and he was forced to park the car on SS2. However, the problem was easily fixed and he will restart in the rally tomorrow. Holding down second place today was Taguchi’s MRF team-mate Scott Pedder, who pulled back some time on Crocker on the day’s later stages but struggled early with the handling of his Lancer after clipping a gate. The collision was only minor but was enough to drastically affect the alignment of the car’s rear wheels, which sapped his speed until rectified during service.

Third today was Eli Evans (Impreza WRX STi), 23.6 seconds behind Pedder. Good fortune was riding with Evans today because he lightly rolled his car and incurred only cosmetic damage. But luck completely deserted Michael Guest in the Pirtek Subaru. The Newcastle driver hit a bank early in the rally and badly bent a suspension arm. Pushing on through the stages, the suspension link broke completely and he arrived at the noon service with the wheel flailing madly.

The problem was fixed by his service crew and Guest pressed on, only to hit a kangaroo during the afternoon and withdraw. However, he will resume tomorrow. WA driver Dean Herridge, driving a Subaru for Cusco Racing, was pleased with his fourth-placed finish, as it will provide him with an improved starting position for day two. Like many of the crews, Herridge was hampered by the thick dust which hung in the air but he was nonetheless very happy with his overall effort. “I’d describe it as a solid day for us,” Herridge said. “We have a slightly different goal to most of the other guys because our plan is to try to win the three-round Pacific Cup series and with our main rival Taguchi going out today, so far we’re looking very good for that.”

Although in a two-wheel drive car against all-wheel drive rivals, British rally champion Guy Wilks showed why Honda chose him to showcase its new Honda Civic Type R rally car. For the first three stages today Wilks and co-driver Phil Pugh packed two spare tyres into their Honda as a precaution against punctures. They quickly swapped the fresh rubber to the front of the car during a transport stage and were impressively quick all day, steadily climbing from start position 13 to end the day in fifth place among the A-P competitors. However, the Honda team had issues during the day with bent wheel rims and reported to be late into a start control late in the day, after stopping to change a wheel on the transport stage. They are likely to suffer a time penalty for being late into the control.

Indonesian rally star Rifat Sungkar, who has cool-headed Australian co-driver Bill Hayes alongside him this season to develop his pace-note capability in the second of the Motor Image Subarus, drove consistently all day to fend off a challenge from Japan’s Hiroshi Yanagisawa, in the second of the Cusco racing Subarus.

After suffering two flat tyres, Takuma Kamada in the Team Arai Subaru bent a rear control arm and whilst driving with the wheel askew, overheated the rear brakes and was forced to pull out. The car has been repaired and he will restart tomorrow.