Japanese driver Katsu Taguchi won a dramatic Rally of Hokkaido taking victory in the final stages from his countryman Hiroshi Yanagisawa in the Cusco Subaru by 2.3 seconds and moving into the drivers championship lead with 43 points, 3 points in front of last years APRC champion Australian Cody Crocker.
Based in the city of Obhiro, Rally of Hokkaido takes place in the forests around Rikebetsu 100 kilometres to the north. Months of dry weather ended a few hours before the start, turning the previously dry and dusty route into treacherously slippery tracks, especially in the forestry stages that sit under a canopy of trees.
While Cocker lead APRC after the first short Rikebetsu stage, Taguchi moved ahead on stage 2 and after 5 stages held a 15 second advantage over fellow Japanese driver Hiroshi Yanagisawa, with Crocker 5 seconds further back in third. Early casualties were Scott Pedder out with gearbox problems and Kamada who crashed big time in his Subaru – the damage so bad that he won’t be a starter in the next APRC round in Indonesia.
While the morning stages were run cool and dry conditions the weather changed dramatically in the afternoon, when a huge rain-storm rolled over the mountains near Rikebetsu just as the drivers entered Puray 2- a 30km stage and the longest of the event. Amidst flashes of lightning, booming thunder and torrential rain the drivers did their best to race in the atrocious conditions, fighting to control their cars in the channels of running water.
The leading competitors were slowed by having to push through huge amounts of water and the biggest looser was Crocker who lost over a minute and dropped to 5th, while Taguchi dropped from 1st to 3rd. The biggest mover was Taguchi’s MRF team-mate Gaurav Gill who charged into 2nd place in APRC benefitting partly from his lower start position but also proving that the young Indian has huge potential for the future.
At final service Gill said ‘Thank goodness we made it back here in one piece. Very pleased with my finish position today and quite surprised we made up so much time on the other guys, but I guess they were clearing the road of all the water, so its a bit of luck and that’s what rallying can be about – especially on a day like today”.
Moving into a 15 second lead was Yanagisawa, benefitting from his 4th on the road start position but still setting an amazing time on Stage 6 considering that the CUSCO driver had a rear tyre puncture 10 kilometres from the end of the stage. Sitting in third at the finish of day was Yanagisawa’s CUSCO team-mate Dean Herridge.
Starting the day in the lead and finished in 5th was not a position Crocker is used to “That was a hell of an afternoon, a bit like the weather it got deteriated as we went on. Stage 6 was diabolical, far worse than anything I have ever driven in before, it was just like driving through a lake. We lost a lot of time in that stage, being the first car on the road we had literally rivers in each wheel track and as we pushed all that out, the roads obviously got a bit better for the cars behind. We dropped positions today, but that might give us an advantage tomorrow – have our competitors sweep the roads for us!”.
Taguchi second on the road also dropped a heap of time “The roads were like a river, even on a long straight we could only get to 100kph because of the water pressure, incredible!. We loose alot of time but still we are in third place and only 21 seconds from the lead”.
With better weather on day two Taguchi’s challenge to regain the lead started well, taking 4 and 5 seconds off Yanagisawa and at the mid-day service the gap was down to only 4 seconds. However in the afternoon stages the final few seconds proved hard to get. Yanagisawa was equally determined to get his first APRC win and pushed to the limit but gradually Taguchi whittled the time down – a half second on one stage and a second on the next. Finally on Stage 16 Taguchi inched ahead but only by .1 of a second. Next stage that lead increased to 1 second and finally at the finish the gap to Yanagisawa was a mere 2.3 seconds.
Both drivers can be happy with their efforts especially in the final stages when each was on the absolute limit. For Taguchi it was his 2nd international win on home ground in a year, after taking Group N honors in last years Rally of Japan, “ “In the afternoon Yanagisawa-san was pushing really really hard and we can only catch him by a half second here and there. It was very close in the end – very tough but a good race. The whole event was very fast, as everyone knows the roads very well – even me. I won Group N here in Rally Japan last year, but then the gap was over one minute, this time only a few seconds – finally we could win this rally, I’m very happy”.
Motor Image’s Crocker managed to salvage something from the event taking fastest time for day 2 and earning himself 3 bonus points “That was a hell of fight, I wanted to beat Katsu and Hiroshi today and we managed to do that just – by 4 or 4.5 seconds, that’s really close. The biggest fight we’ve had for along time – just for three bonus points, but a great day. Yesterday was a big disaster, its disappointing that the weather could that to us!! But not much you can do about it, otherwise today was fantastic the roads were great”.
Taguchi’s win takes him to the top of the APRC drivers championship points but Crocker is only 3 points behind and has one extra event up his sleeve to get the extra points to win his third title. The next event on the APRC calendar is the Rally of Indonesia, an event known for extreme heat and thick dust. MRF Mitsubishi won there last year, while Motor Image had a shocker – it will be an interesting event.
Top 5 Results – Rally Hokkaido
1 Katsu Taguchi (Japan) 1:47:51.1,
2 Hiroshi Yanagisawa (Japan) 1:47:53.4, (+2.3)
3 Dean Herridge (Aust) 1:48:56.9, (+1:03.5)
4 Cody Crocker (Aust) 1:49:16.7 (+19.8)
5 Rifat Sungkar (Indonesia) 1:53:27.1
APRC points (after round 4 of 7)
1 Katsu Taguchi, 43
2 Cody Crocker, 40
3 Dean Herridge, 32
4 Hiroshi Yanagisawa, 22
=5 Rifat Sungkar, 13
=5 Brian Green, 13
7 Scott Pedder, 12