With a new season starting in just over 2 months its time to look at what teams and drivers are lined up for the 2009 Asia Pacific Rally Championship. The structure of the APRC is similar to previous years, with the first round in New Caledonia 10-12 April and the only major change a brand new event on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.
The good news for 2009 is the Motor Image team is confirmed to return with new shaped Subaru Imprezas for current champion Cody Crocker and a yet to be named new second driver. Rumours are rife as to the identity of Motor Image’s new driver and an announcement is expected sometime soon. The MI team have been busy with testing through the off-season, with another test scheduled in Malaysia next month. Motor Images first event will be Rally Queensland 8-10 May.
CUSCO have confirmed their entry in 2009 and the big change there is that the team will switch to Mitsubishi Evo 10’s. While CUSCO have been strongly linked to Subaru’s for many years they are an after-market parts manufacturer, manufacturing and selling parts for all makes so switching to Mitsubishi can only enhance and broaden their image. CUSCO’s drivers and programme is yet to be finalised, but one driver unfortunately out of the frame is Dean Herridge. Herridge did a great job for the team in 2008 winning the inaugural APRC Pacific Cup, but his strong Subaru links preclude him driving Mitsubishi’s for the team in 2009. The Australian does have a programme in the 2009 China Rally Championship.
There is no news yet from MRF Tyres and their plans. Indian driver Gaurav Gill is confirmed to drive a Tommi Makinen prepared Subaru Impreza in the 2009 P-WRC with Team Sidvin India and therefore it is debatable whether he’d be available to drive in the APRC. It would seem inconceivable that MRF Mitsubishi driver Katsu Taguchi wouldn’t be there to challenge Cody Croker for the title again, so hopefully Ralliart will confirm a 2009 programme for him shortly in a Lancer Evo 10.
There are several drivers and teams still to finalise their programmes for 2009. Former Motor Image driver Rifat Sungkar is expected to take part in some events in the Asia area and the USA, while his brother Rizal is hoping to put a full APRC programme together presumably in a Mitsubishi. Former P-WRC driver Subhan Aksa from Indonesia is thought to be looking at an APRC campaign in 2009.
Kiwi Hayden Paddon is hoping to enter the full APRC, or at the very least Pacific Cup alongside a defence of his New Zealand rally title, while fellow New Zealander Patrick Malley is also looking at APRC in 2009 and other international opportunities. Long time supporter of the APRC New Zealander Brian Green is expected to enter a Mitsubishi, while New Caledonian veteran Jean-Louis Leyraud is planning to run a PBMS prepared Subaru. PBMS are hoping to find a driver for a second car possibly Japanese driver Takuma Kamada but that is dependant on Kamada’s sponsors agreement.
Most of the remaining news is rumour and conjecture, but there are some interesting stories floating about mostly linked to S2000 cars. These would be a great addition to the championship as they would bring new manufacturers to the series, they sound great and they are the WRC rally car of the future.
The beautiful new Proton Satria S2000 built by MEM in the UK would be seem a natural fit with its manufacturer base and main market in Malaysia. Given the Protons promising debut on the very wet WRC Rally of Ireland, where the non-turbo S2000 car posted third fastest time on the very first stage and went on to regularly set stage times amongst the more powerful WRC cars, the Proton S2000 car looks to be a powerful and very nimble weapon! Proton has plans to enter the WRC 2010 in and so it is possible the team may enter the 09 Asia Pacific Rally Championship where the car will have a rigorous shakedown over many different surfaces and conditions , while at the sametime benefiting from the marketing opportunities in its home region.
Considering the economic doom and gloom in the world at the moment and especially in the motoring industry there is a lot of interest in the APRC this year “Sponsors and teams are looking for value for money and that’s definitely something we can offer in the Asia-Pacific” said coordinator Murray Brown. “We can offer competitors and their sponsors exposure to a huge population base and our costs are half those of competing the P-WRC. I’m confident we’ll have a good field of cars again this year”.
Check out the following websites for the first events of 2009: Rally New Caledonia http://www.rallye-nc.net/ and Rally Queensland http://www.rallyqueensland.com.au