This weekend’s 2008 Malaysian Rally looks like being one of the most competitive and exciting Asia-Pacific Rally Championship events in years with a full APRC entry, complemented by ten young drivers competing in the Pirelli Star Driver Competition.
In the APRC Japanese driver Katsu Taguchi leads the 2008 championship points race by 5 points from Australian Cody Crocker. With 3rd place Dean Herridge not entered in Malaysia and 23 points behind leader Taguchi, the drivers title can now only be won by either Taguchi or Crocker.
And while Crocker is not currently leading the championship, he has to be favorite to win his 3rd Asia-Pacific drivers title simply because he has two more events to score points, while the Malaysian Rally is Taguchi’s final APRC event of the year (competitors only score points frm the 6 norminated events).
There’s no doubt the competition between the two drivers has been much closer this year, but Taguchi’s DNF at Canberra when his engine died with an electrical fault, really hurt his chances of regaining the APRC title he last won in 1999. In every other event Taguchi has been on the podium, while this year Crocker has been slightly less dominating, winning both Canberra and New Zealand, but suffering badly in the Hokkaido rain-storm and then struggling in Indonesia with a down on power engine on Day1 and a puncture on Day 2.
Both drivers will be out to win Malaysia outright, Taguchi simply to get as many points as possible, while Crocker would like to win his Motor Image sponsors their ‘home’ rally.
Behind this years title contenders, the fight will be to see who ends up in third place. With Cusco’s Herridge not in Malaysia there is opportunity for his team-mate Hiroshi Yanagisawa to take over 3rd place, but only five points behind is Indonesian Rifat Sungkar, Kiwi Brian Green and Gaurav Gill from India. The other battle to watch will be the manufacturers championship currently led by Subaru, but only by one point from Mitsubishi.
The fight at the front of the field will be interesting but so too will be the battle of the juniors, the Pirelli Star Driver Competition where the winner will walk away with a drive in the 2009 Production World Rally Championship – a dream come true for any young driver. Picking a winner is difficult as the compeition is not based on who gets home first, rather the driver that sets the greatest number of fastest stage times.
Top of the favorites list would have to be MRF Tyres driver Gaurav Gill from India. Gill is fresh from winning the last round of the APRC Rally Indonesia where he showed he has the outright speed to take on the big boys Taguchi and Crocker – and stand the pressure when they pushed him. Gill also has another significant advantage over his rivals, co-driver Jagdev Singh. Jagdev has a huge amount of experience in Malaysia as co-driver for multiple champion Karamjit Singh and his knowledge will be invaluable – especially if it rains. Gill and Singh worked well together in Indonesia and Gill also competed in the 2007 Malaysian event coming home 4th in APRC. “Competing here last year is an advantage but the other boys have many years of driving experience behind them when compared to me. I am confident of giving them tough competition and let the best man win” said Gill prior to the event
The other Pirelli Star driver with Malaysian experience is Australia’s Eli Evans, driving an LWR Subaru in the 2006 event and setting some very competitive times in the humid conditions. For the past two years Evans has concentrated on the Australian Rally Championship and comes to Malasyia with alot more experience under his belt “”I’m feeling fairly confident having come off some recent success in the ARC, although there is more at stake at this event our approach will be the same as every other rally. We’re expecting some very close competition from Guarav Gill, and of course from the New Zealand competitors, but I feel that with the APRC experience we gained in 2006, especially at this event, we’re in with a good chance.”.
There are five New Zealanders entered entered in the Pirelli competition and top of the list as a mjor contender in Malaysia is current NZ Rally Champion Hayden Paddon. While the young kiwi has not rallied in Malaysia he has competed in Thailand to gain experince of the heat, but the roads and conditions around Johor Baru are quite different. Nevertheless Paddon is an intelligent driver and will no doubt adapt quickly and the young kiwi has shown he can compete at the highest level, taking on the Production WRC drivers in the recent WRC Rally of New Zealand. “Im really looking forward to the challenge. It is going to be tough, alot of fast competition and conditions which are alot different to what we are used to here in New Zealand. But we have a good car and team package and I feel we are ready to do battle and try and come out on top.” said Paddon prior to leaving New Zaland.
The other quick kiwi in with a chance is Mark Tapper. A few months ago Tapper entered a Malaysian National round to get some experince of the conditions and after his leased rally car broke down twice, the event allowed him to restart in the team recce car, whereupon the New Zealander set several 2nd fastest times in the wet – only beaten by Malaysian supremo Karamjit Singh.
Indonesian driver Rizal Sungkar and younger brother to Motor Images Rifat, will be a competitor to watch too, a quick driver that won’t be fazed by the heat sapping conditions and one who will also adapt quickly. Who-ever wins will have a fantastic opportunity in 2009 to show the world what they’re capable of and for those that don’t, there another chance in 2009 when Pirelli will stage the competition.
The Malaysian Rally is based in Johor Baru and runs from 10-12 the October. Watch for TV highlights on Rally World and the official APRC TV coverage on ESPN STAR Sports. And to check out the 2007 Malaysian action, play the video of last years round: