JAPANESE driver Katsu Taguchi has boosted his lead in the 2010 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship with a win in Rally Hokkaido at the weekend.
Driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for India’s MRF Team, Taguchi with Australian co-driver Chris Murphy finished nine seconds ahead of Hiroshi Yanagisawa to claim his second straight series victory and a 74-point tally in the drivers standings.
The 221 kilometre event on Japan’s northernmost island was round two of seven in the championship, which will also visit the Sunshine Coast for the International Rally of Queensland on 30 July – 1 August.
Taguchi’s teammate Guarav Gill, who had led Rally Hokkaido after the first day, came home third overall but managed to retain second place in the championship with 49 points.
The new Proton R3 Malaysia Rally Team of Australia’s Chris Atkinson and Scotland’s Alister McRae had their promising speed thwarted by on-road incidents and mechanical woes, as they did in round one in Malaysia last month.
Both retired their Proton Satria Neo S2000s half-way through day one of Rally Hokkaido, Atkinson with a bent engine valve and McRae with sump damage. They rejoined on Sunday, with McRae finishing third for the leg but Atkinson again sidelined late in the day with a mechanical problem.
Despite the setbacks, the pair recorded between them 19 top-five stage finishes, including two stage wins for McRae, over the event’s 18 stages.
Atkinson is now sixth in the championship and McRae seventh, with five rounds to run.
Round three will be the International Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand on 3-4 July, to be followed by the International Rally of Queensland.
McRae and Chris Atkinson were both surprised when they saw the nature of the roads used by the Japanese round of the APRC.
The pair had been expecting fast but flowing roads, but was faced with super-fast stages and long straights that would suit their rivals driving turbocharged cars rather than the non-turbo Super 2000 Protons.
Atkinson said the roads had changed considerably since he collected a podium result on the World Rally Championship round on Hokkaido in 2005.
Atkinson, formerly a member of the Subaru World Rally Team, continued his learning in both the Proton and the Super 2000 formula, posting competitive times before his Satria suffered an engine problem on the fifth stage.
His car had been at maximum engine revs in top gear for three kilometres in the stage where the problem set in.
Atkinson said: “The stages we used in Japan were quite different to the ones I remember from the World Rally Championship event. They had a lot more straights in them.
“We sat on the rev limiter in top gear for a minute on one stage – that’s so frustrating when you know that we’re doing 175 kmh and the Group N cars with their turbos are going at speeds up to 210 kmh. It’s also not the most interesting of challenges to be driving on straight roads.
“We had an engine problem with the car on Saturday when we were not far off the lead of APRC.
“This sport can be tough sometimes. But New Zealand is coming and we’ll be right back on it there – I’m already counting the days until we can launch the Proton through those cambers: it’s going to be awesome.”
The Proton and MRF teams will be among an expected 70-plus entry for the International Rally of Queensland, which also will host rounds of the Australian and Queensland Rally Championships and the national classic rally series.
Source: Chris Nixon, Rally Queensland