The first award of the APRC 2008 waiting to be claimed at this weekends Rally Whangarei.
The Pacific Cup, one of the two new awards available within the overall Asia-Pacific championship, is looking to be a three-way battle between current championship leader Dean Herridge, Rally New Caledonia winner Katsu Taguchi, and veteran New Caledonian driver Jean-Louis Leyraud.
It’s an interesting battle, the Pacific Cup being the main goal for both Herridge and Leyraud, while Taguchi’s attention will be taken by the overall championship. Herridge, who currently enjoys an eight point buffer to Taguchi and Leyraud, is determined to take the cup in Whangarei, his initial contract with Cusco set to end at the completion of the New Zealand round.
Speaking on his web site, Herridge commented “We’re in a good position. We don’t have to beat Katsu this weekend to win the Pacific Cup. Myself and the team will be trying to work out the best way to attack the event and lock away the Pacific Cup, but also to keep my points tally as high as possible in the overall championship.”
“I haven’t been to New Zealand since 2005. I think (Rally Whangarei) does use some of the old WRC roads that I have driven on. I think Jean-Louis went there last year, so he has that on us. We’re all in similar boats. MRF haven’t been there for a while, neither have I, and Jean-Louis may have one up on us. So we’re all a little bit green when it comes to this event. But New Zealand, no matter whether you’re in the north or the south, the roads are all fantastic to drive on. And come Sunday, if the result turns our way, it will be even better.”
Herridge and Leyraud played conservative strategies at both rallies New Caledonia and Canberra. But for Taguchi, 2008 offers an irresistible opportunity to snag another series title.
He and Cody Crocker proved in Canberra they are the class of the field. During Leg 2, the pair set a blazing pace, matching times throughout the day, and leaving the rest of the field in their wake. But Crocker is expected to debut the all-new, but unproven, 2008-model Impreza in Japan. And that may present Taguchi, who will remain in the proven and reliable Lancer Evo 9 for the entire season, with an opportunity to deny Crocker and MotorImage of a third-straight APRC title.
Speaking after Rally Canberra, Katsu was up-beat about his chances this year. “Compared to last year our car is much improved, so now I think we are equal with him (Cody). All day it was just a few seconds between me and Cody.”
Rally Whangarei will be the first time since 2005 Taguchi has rallied in New Zealand, and his first time in Whangarei. But he has contested Rally New Zealand five times previously, and does have experience on the fast and flowing north island roads.
And Jean-Louis Leyraud can’t be ruled out either. While the French veteran may no longer be able to match the outright pace of his younger rivals, he does have plenty of rally ‘smarts’, plenty of experience on the Whangarei roads, and will be ready to capitalise on any mistakes committed by Herridge or Taguchi.
The Pacific Cup was originally intended to draw new competitors in the series. And while it has done that, it’s also produced a tasty little battle in the first half of the season. Who’ll win? We’ll find out this weekend in Northland.