The world economic recession may have had an effect on APRC entries in 2009, but with the first event of 2010 only three weeks away the interest is high and that is reflected in the number of registered teams for the Malaysian Rally. Leading the challenge is the APRC’s longest serving team MRF Tyres and their two drivers Katsu Taguchi from Japan and Gaurev Gill from India.
To some this may seem a surprise given the teams strong connection to Mitsubishi and the with-drawal of Ralliart from future competition, but as team principal Tony Rodericks said from his base in Kolkate, India “We joined APRC on our own,without the support of Mitsubishi Ralliart. Later Mitsubishi Motors became our part sponsor. Ralliart did not co-sponsor Team MRF last year, but we continued to participate.” Both drivers will use the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 and a with a year of development in 2009, the team should have most of the brake issues behind them and on paper at least, given their experience of the events the ‘team to beat’.
No doubt MEM Proton and their wickedly quick Satria S2000 will have other ideas. Proton has confirmed two cars and Scottish driver Alistair McRae will lead the team. At the time of writing the name of the second driver has not been released but we understand from the rumour machine that it is most likely another ex-WRC driver with formidable talent and experience of the APRC events. The Satria didn’t finish any of the APRC three events it started in 2009, but then McRae took 3rd place at his home event in Scotland in the very same car a week after China. There is no doubt if MRF faulter, Proton will win and on some of the smoother events such as New Zealand and Australia they should all be on level playing field.
So who else? Cusco have a two team but so far they have only confirmed to do Asia Cup with their drivers Horishi Yanagisawa and Yuya Sumiyama. Rifat Sungkar is apparently registered for the full series as has New Zealander Brian Green. But entries for the full series remain open until 28th April if Hokkaido is a teams first event, therefore there is plenty of time yet.
Operating within the APRC is the Asia and Pacific Cups. In 2010 this has provided plenty of interest and new teams are entered with the Hasepro World Rally Team from Japan and the MRU Rally Team from Malaysia. The latest news is that Malaysian multiple champion Karamjit Singh has a wild car entry for Malaysia, with an intention to continue on to Hokkaido and Indonesia to compete in the Asia Cup. Again the 28th April is the last day to enter for Asia Cup if teams opt for Japan, Indonesia and China as their choosen events.
And then there are the wild cards. New for 2010 each event is able to enter 4 wildcard drivers, who will score full APRC points and have the option of continuing on in the full championship and retaining the points earned in their home event. However given that to qualify you must have competed in a minimum of five APRC events, it seems unlikely that anyone is likely to join or continue after the third round in Whangarei, New Zealand.
Rally Whangarei is the first of the Pacific events and we hear there equally as much interest in the Pacific Cup with three New Caledonians entered including the lengendary Jean-Louis Leyraud, plus at least one kiwi and a hot-shot Auzzie thought to be Brendan Reeves.
It looks like an interesting year with the wildcards to spice things up. Imagine Karamjit Singh in Malaysia, Toshi Arai in Japan, Hayden Paddon in New Zealand, Simon Evans in Australia and things start to look lively. For the travelling APRC drivers its not going to be about outright wins, just finish and score good points every round, something that Katsu Taguchi has been good at for many years….he’s my pick for champion.