Crocker chases local aces in Rally Hokkaido

Subaru rally driver Cody Crocker takes on the challenging Rally Hokkaido in Japan this weekend, looking to build on his lead in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC). The defending series champion sits on top of the points table after tackling just two of the first three rounds of the season.

The Australian has 32 points, having taken his MotorImage team Impreza WRX STI to top points in both Australia and New Zealand, after opting to miss the 2008 opener in New Caledonia. The winner of that round, Japan’s Katsu Taguchi, has 30 points, while Crocker’s old Subaru Australia team mate, Dean Herridge, is third with 26 points.

Crocker is surprised to find himself already in the lead, but is out to grab maximum points again this weekend. “I’d hoped to catch the others earlier rather than later in the season, but it’s a surprise for me to do that after only two rounds,” Crocker said. “It’s a fantastic way to start the season. It couldn’t be better.”

The Japanese round is one of the most demanding of the series, made even harder to win because of the strong contingent of local drivers. “Technically these roads are the toughest roads in the championship, not only have you got narrow roads, but lots of very narrow, slippery bridges with large concrete edges – quite a challenge,” Crocker said. “Plus we’re now in Katsu’s (Taguchi) and Hiroshi’s (Yanagisawa) home ground now, so we expect them to be the pacesetters.”

Japan is also a home event for Subaru, and Crocker wants to win for the manufacturer that has backed him since 1998. “We always want to win every event we enter,” Crocker said. “One line of thinking this year is that now we’ve got the lead we can just try to hang on to it. But, there is a huge incentive this year to win in Japan as there will be many representatives from Subaru and Fuji Heavy Industries, Motor Image and STI. So a win here will be almost as important as winning the championship.” But it won’t be easy.

While Crocker and his co-driver, Ben Atkinson, have been regular competitors in Japan in recent years, the course is markedly different this year. “Many of the stages have changed this year so most of the teams will be writing new notes – which is probably the most important part of rallying. Good notes means good speed and one of our strengths is being able to be quick on new notes.” Crocker and Atkinson will once again be the first car away, given the unenviable job of sweeping the roads. “Our seeding position means we’ll be first on the road at every event, so we’ve just got to put our heads down and sweep as much gravel as we can, and that’s the tough bit,” Crocker said. “The second pass over many stages sees us around one to two seconds per kilometre faster. That doesn’t seem like much, but that’s up to one minute on a 30km stage. We can’t afford to give away that much time to our competitors running on a swept road for their first pass over the stages. We’ve got to be as clean and as committed as we can on the first pass.”

Rally Hokkaido gets underway on Saturday morning and concludes on Sunday afternoon. Leg One consists of eight stages across 150.92 competitive kilometres. The final day sees a further 10 stages, but just 79.88 competitive kilometres.

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