A few more dramas followed the carnage of Day One on the Ancom Malaysian Rally, but New Zealander Mark Tapper came through the second day unscathed to take the title of Pirelli Star Driver for the Asia Pacific region. “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” commented Tapper, “the phone’s been ringing off the hook with calls from around the world.”
Not only did Tapper top the young drivers, but he also made the podium on the event overall – beating out more experienced APRC drivers to third place. “It’s a added bonus to be on the podium again at an APRC event and to beat the regulars by such a large margin.” After some tough times in the last few years, the twenty-seven year old has come out on top and will now move up onto the world stage.
“The biggest part for me is being able to re-pay the people who have backed me and had faith in me even when things have not gone so well.”
Day Two started off looking like it was going to be a fantastic fight between Tapper, Eli Evans and possibly even re-joining Hayden Paddon. But it was not to be.
Evans got off to a flying start, winning not only the stage for the Pirelli Star Driver points, but the stage overall as well. The second stage of the day is where everything went wrong for the young Australian. “We had a good run in the morning and we were confident with our tyre choice but on Stage Ten it was a bit greasy under the trees and we slid wide into tree,” Evans said after the event, “credit to Mark [Tapper] and Jeff [Judd], their pace made us push harder and that’s where the mistake happened.”
Tapper had a relatively trouble free day and knew by the mid-point service that he just needed to finish the day to win the massive Pirelli Star Driver prize.
Fellow New Zealander Hayden Paddon came back to finish strongly after his crash on Day One. Paddon took two stage wins in the afternoon and traded off the others with Tapper. “It’s been good when it’s dry and I’ve got a bit of confidence back. Pretty disappointing weekend all in all though.”
Rizal Sungkar had a better day but was still finding the humid conditions challenging. “[It was] very tough, but we made it,” he said at the end of Stage 14.
A better day was had by Arjun Rao Aroor, but a bad tyre choice in the morning meant that he lost time on the first loop of stages. A change of tyre at service suited the mid-morning repeat.
Kirsty Nelson, Patrick Malley and James Russell rejoined to take a crack at the second day’s stages, whereas Gaurav Gill’s engine damage from the first day put him out completely.
A pace note mistake finished Malley’s rally for the second time when he went to fast over a crest near the end of Stage Nine. “We jumped as we came over the crest, there was just no braking distance and we went into the bank. We did the intercooler and radiator – and broke the steering wheel, again!”
Nelson and Russell came through to finish the rally, gaining valuable experience in the challenging Malaysian conditions. “It was much easier today,” Nelson said, “it didn’t rain and we didn’t have to shut the vent – which is what made me sick yesterday.”
A lost intercom on the last two stages proved tricky for Russell on the second run through the stages, but he found that he was still quicker. “We’ve did the last two stages without any real notes, but I remembered the last [stage] well, so it wasn’t a problem. We’ve improved our times by over a minute compared to the last run [on these stages].”
But overall, a fantastic result for Mark Tapper from a very difficult weekend. This is the kind of stepping stone that the late Possum Bourne grabbed with both hands – as Mark now looks to follow in his footsteps to represent New Zealand in world rallying.