By Brian Young – APSM.tv
The first half of Rally Hokkaido, 4th round of the 2009 Asia Pacific Rally Championship was a great battle between multiple champion Cody Crocker and Japan’s Katsu Taguchi.
Both drivers attacked from the very first stage and unbelievably both drivers had small offs on the very first corner of the super-special, held just after the start on Friday night.
The following morning the action started with Rikubetsu a short 2.7 kilometre blast through a forest and off-road track. Indian’s Gaurav Gill held the lead after stage 2, just 0.2 second in front of Japan’s Toshi Arai.
Stage 3 was the first real stage of the event, 29 kilometres of fast forest roads and its here that Crocker really applied the ‘go’ button winning the stage from Gill by 11 seconds, with Taguchi 18 seconds further back.
Taguchi who was expected to win his home event was now 3rd overall and 22 seconds behind Crocker after only three stages, while Taguchi’s MRF team-mate Gill was 2nd and 10 second off the lead.
While Taguchi may have been wondering how come he’d lost so much time at least he was still in the hunt, unlike his countryman Arai who’d had a frightening moment in 5th gear when his Subaru steering broke just after a big jump. Arai managed to keep out of the trees even though his car veered first left off the road and then crossed and back into the shrubbery on the right-hand side, before coming to a stop with a windscreen full of leaves. While the car was undamaged Arai and co-driver Glenn MacNeall were too far off the road to get going again and retired.
On Stage 4 and 5 Taguchi ‘woke-up’ and took 10 seconds off Crockers lead, but then Crocker struck back again on Stage 6 to win the stage and open the gap back to 17 seconds.
Gaurav Gill in the MRF Mitsubishi Evo 10 was setting top times and was 3rd overall after Stage 6 even though the young Indian was suffering from spongy brakes. However a combination of too much speed and unreliable braking lead to Gill rolling on Stage 6 “We entered a right hander a little quicker than I should have, and when I pumped the brakes they bit really hard this time, the back stepped out and we left the road. We rolled on our side and there’s not too much damage so we will restart tomorrow’ said Gill after the incident.
Gilmour and co-driver Rhianon Smythe were following and had a scary moment avoiding Gills stricken Mitsubishi. Some very unladylike language was recorded by the on-board camera system as they tried to scrub off speed and negotiate what little road was left. Gills retirement promoted Gilmour to 4th overall and 3rd in APRC and 16 seconds behind Yanagisawa in the CUSCO Mitsubishi.
Compared to last year Yanagisawa was somewhat off the pace, but developing a new car with very little stage mileage required a conservative approach and while he couldn’t match the pace of Crocker and Taguchi, third overall after 6 stages was a good position.
On Stage 7 and the second run through the 25 kilometre Sipirkakim 2 test Taguchi took another 4.5 seconds off Crocker’s lead, the gap now down to 12.6 seconds. But Stage 8 changed all that when 7 kilometres from the finish Taguchi got a puncture after a big jump. The tyre shredded almost immediately and Taguchi and co-driver completed the stage on the rim “We only a lost a minute and 10 seconds, I thought it would be much more. But its going to be difficult to catch Cody now unless he has a problem, but this is rally so lets wait and see” lamented Taguchi at the end of the stage.
At the end of day 1 Crocker led the event by a solid 1 minute and 20.3 seconds and the Australian had every right to feel confident “Katsu and I had an awesome fight through the day and it’s a pity he got the puncture. Every event we go to now its very close they’ve (MRF) certainly found a lot more speed. We’ll be going full-speed tomorrow for bonus points but it’s a tough task….. he’s pushing really hard!’ said Crocker at end of day service.
While Taguchi had dropped time he was still in a safe second, 52 seconds in front of Yanagisawa in the new CUSCO Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10. The team were happy with their day’s rallying and for them it was all about development and learning the car. Part way through the day the CUSCO engineers had heard a strange noise coming from the front driveshafts and as team manager Takuya Sugimura said “when it’s a car you know, you also understand what is a problem and what’s not – but with this car we have limited experience, so we’ve decided to change the front drive-shafts as a precaution. But every kilometre we are learning, its good”. Unfortunately the team did loose Yuya Sumiyama from the competition, retiring on Stage 8 with transmission problems.
Emma Gilmour was 4th overall and 3rd in the APRC registered drivers and was happy at the end of day 1 and said at service “the car’s been awesome to drive, we’ve made some minor changes through the day but in general its been great. I’ve leant so much today about driving through the ruts and over the high-speed bumps” .
Day 2 was a set of much more high-speed stages and smoother roads, however there was a large layer of heavy gravel to shift for the front running cars. By the end of the first loop Taguchi had managed to pull back a few seconds on Crockers lead and was on track to take the maximum bonus points for the day. Crocker could see this and decided there was little to be gained by going ‘maximum attack’ just for the 1 point. The Motor Image driver backed off slightly but with enough speed to maintain a safe gap. And that was the way it stayed through the afternoon and to the finish-line, the final margin 1 minutes and 9.9 seconds.
Crocker took 15 points for the weekend and now moves to 47, eleven points clear of Taguchi on 36. Emma Gilmour 3rd on 23 points, Brian 4th and Gill 5th.
Apart from the overall APRC award the real battle for the remainder of the year is going to be the Asia Cup. Proton have announced they will join the championship for the three remaining rounds (driver TBA but we’ve heard Karamjit Singh is in the frame) and Rifat Sungkar will return for the Asia Cup driving a Mitsubishi.
Results – APRC Rally Hokkaido
1 C Crocker/B Atkinson, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2 K Taguchi/M Stacey, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +1 min 09.9 secs
3 H Yanagasawa/Y Nakahara, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, +2:43.8
4 E Gilmour/R Smyth, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +3:56.1
5 N Katsuta/ S Adachi, Subaru Impreza WRX STI, +6:33.0
Photo courtesy of www.rally-hokkaido.com