Japanese rally team Cusco appear set to drop the first bombshell of the new APRC season, rumours suggesting they will abandon their long-term partnership with Subaru and contest 2009 with a pair Mitsubishi Lancer EVO Xs.
The Gunma-based team had its most successful season in 2008, with multiple podiums to Hiroshi Yanagisawa and Dean Herridge, with Herridge also capturing the Pacific Cup title.
The team was expected to replace their 2007-spec Impreza WRX STis with the new GRB model this season, but talk throughout the APRC community is that Cusco will change brands. A pair of brand-new Mitsubishi Lancer EVO Xs are expected to line-up for Rally New Caledonia, piloted by Yanagisawa and young-gun Yuya Sumiyama.
Herridge, who has a long-standing relationship with Subaru, is expected to remain loyal to the ‘blue side’, giving up the chance of a regular APRC drive to concentrate on developing the Impreza GRB for Subaru Rally Team China in the Chinese domestic series.
Meanwhile, the APRCs leading Mitsubishi team, MRF, have yet to confirm if they will run again this year. Speaking from the Race Torque Engineering workshops in Perth, Lane Heenan, who runs the MRF team, said it is unlikely budgets would to be ‘locked-in’ prior to the end of February, and that announcement is anticipated at the start of March.
(Cusco were approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of publishing this article. Photos shown here are of Fumio Nutahara, competing at Rally Japan 2008.)