In 1999, when Group.A rally cars dominated regional championships, Katsu Taguchi won the overall APRC title in a Group.N spec Mitsubishi Lancer – an outstanding achievement. Eleven years later Katsu finally gained his second APRC title.
Looking back through APRC’s history, a series started in 1988, Taguchi is the longest serving driver. Although it took 11 years to regain the title in that time Katsu, “The Tiger of APRC” has built his confidence and skill. Many drivers have had an influence on his career during that time.
When Taguchi talks about his machine, he often uses the word “Package”. To build a good rally car, making one particular point strong could stress or cause trouble in another area. Looking at whole of combination is very important to building a properly competitive machine. Same as his rally-car, Katsu as a driver has grown into an excellent all round package – with lots of great friends.
‘Maximum attack’ and ‘On the limit’ are natural for top drivers, especially when they are chasing a championship title. This season, Taguchi retired from only one event, the final round in China which was an extremely fierce battle where theree drivers could take the title.
Apart from that event, on every single rally Katsu returned to service, sometimes barely, and gained valuable points. Due to the new point scoring system introduced in 2010, Katsu knew the importance of finishing every event if he was to have any chance in the title hunt. But on the other hand, with strong competition it would require some risk – maximum attack. Katsu has always driven at 100% and he can do that with confidence when he has such a strong trust and long time relationship with his mechanics.
Yasushi Ohara, chief mechanic of Taguchi has been supporting Taguchi from the time when they worked for “Task Engineering”(one of the most experienced workshops in Japan, running Nutahara for P-WRC, APRC). After winning the first APRC title in 1999, Taguchi switched to a Group.A spec Mitsubishi and competed in selected WRC rounds and the British championship. Switching back to Group.N machine though was tough and Taguchi lost his ‘feeling’ and hit a slump. “I was 2 or 3 seconds per km slower than national drivers. I think the reason was 1.5 seconds of confusion and 1.5 seconds my driving.” said Taguchi looking back that time.
It was Ohara that led Taguchi out of the slump, able to find the best setting for his driver. An experienced mechanic for one of the prestigious workshops in Japan, Taguchi totally trusted Ohara, but it works both ways say Ohara, “A driver needs a mechanic…… who believes in the driver”.
In 2003, Taguchi got a new opportunity, joining Team MRF. This meant building a new relationship with the team and Ohara accompanied Taguchi on each event. Both driver and mechanic gave the team valuable feedback from every testing, and the evidence was ever improving stage times. Repeating this process over and over again, built their position within this very international team.
Lane Heenan, team manager of Team MRF is also a person who understands Taguchi well.
“Lane always takes any of good things to win which is excellent attitude. He is also an expert engineer, the entire team totally trust him.” Taguchi fully applauds him. After Gaurav Gill joined the team from home country of MRF, Heenan has never given any order on strategy to either of them and respected each driver as totally equal. The way of relationship is also base of Taguchi’s confidence to drive as he likes.
Team MRF itself has already produced two APRC champions, Armin Kremer in 2003 and Jussi Valimaki in 2005. Those team mates acted as good stimulus for Taguchi as well.
“Jussi is a very professional driver, bringing his own sponsors and PR staff for news releases. His request for machine is very strict.”(Taguchi commented).
As a professional Taguchi was happy to have the opportunity to learn good technique from a strong driver, but was surprised at the Flying Finn’s approach to low-speed driving.
“Valimaki’s approach on low-speed section after full acceleration on high-speed is superb. It clearly worked on Indonesian rounds. He drove very well on those surfaces covering slippery gravel with the technique. Gill, current team mate, surpasses at turn-in, on braking from high-speed. He can turn well in the speed which normally can not. Now he doesn’t make much mistake and becomes really good driver.”
With a stable position within Team MRF, Taguchi’s strongest rival standing in his title hunt has been four times APRC champion from 2006-2009, Cody Crocker.
“No retirement in 4 years of full competition in the APRC series is divine. I think Cody’s driving was just the prefect limit between making good time and simple as possible. It was miracle package which every thing worked well.”
Having such a formidable rival was something Taguchi could never change.” So I concentrated on running every single rally and making improvement on machine”
Mark Stacey has been Taguchi’s co-driver from 2003 to the beginning of 2010, but more than that he’s Taguchi’s mentor as well.
“I moved to Australia to study rally and Stacey taught me base of pace note. At first, he always pointed out! But he has wealth knowledge with many experiences from doing co-driving for many top drivers. I learnt from him to make pace note as simple as I became fast”.
Spending time with Taguchi for most of his APRC career, Stacey is well matched with Taguchi as a human as well.
“Stacey doesn’t make mistake and always try to make me concentrating for driving. I think we are on the same wavelength. He knew when I was on “push-mode”, and at that time, he also got in same mode. I think he was fan of my driving. He loves driving with many slide like Possum Borne, so he’s always excited and says things like” Great slide, Katsu!” at the end of stage. He controlled me when I lost a line, but never interrupt me when I had rhythm, because he trusts me.”(Taguchi)
Its been a long time between titles, but Taguchi never lost his character now he may change the approach on his life.
“”It’s been just difficult time for everyone, but I think the situation will be improved soon, just need to be patient bit more. From now, I’m thinking how do I live, how long can I be a driver, what can I do for the future, now I’m age on to considering such as.”
At 38years old the Japanese ace is now planning various visions of his own management including starting own web-site or starting driving school. As always making progress with positive attitude, it’s no doubt that his future is full of notable drama.
“My Katsu, the champion” Mark Stacey, co-driver
Let me say how pleased and proud I am of Katsu and the team winning the Asia Pacific Rally Championship this year. Katsu is a most deserved winner. Katsu has worked extremely hard and applied himself to the task of winning rallies. He has also done an amazing job helping MRF develop their rally tyres. This has been along project over several seasons and on as mixed surfaces as you could find. At times during that development period we found that, our “latest compound” wasn’t as competitive as we would have liked, but Katsu is a true professional and would never complain, just work harder to get them better.
I very much enjoyed all of the time I spent with Katsu, over many years and across a dozen countries.
Each event is an adventure in itself; remember in APRC the next rally is in the next country so everything seems like a new experience over and over again.
The hotels, the traffic, the weather, the recce, the ceremonial rally starts (especially the WRC in Obihiro), all fantastic memories.
Even more though, was the times during a rally, when we weren’t winning (and there were several of those in the last few years) and we would turn to our team manager, Lane Heenan from Race Torque in Perth, with the question, should we go steady and careful to conserve our current position, or give it everything and go flat out to try to win? Lane would always leave that up to us, as he has immense faith in Katsu. His ability and judgement are unsurpassed. Some of our best recollections are of events that we didn’t win, but we did get to go absolutely flat out trying.
One thing that didn’t change was the search for good food in foreign places! During our visit to a country for a rally (usually 6 or 7 days) the guys would like to try the local Japanese food at least one. Having now eaten at Japanese restaurants with Katsu and Ohara (manager), all over the world I have come to have quite an appreciation for Japanese food. Katsu would always be willing to select and explain the dishes to me, so really I have had an experience that money couldn’t buy and am much better for it, Thanks Katsu.
I am hoping that Katsu will have a continued programme in the APRC and have the opportunity to defend his championship next year.
“He has long future as a driver” Brian Young, APRC series media
I have known Katsu for a long time and was at China Rally 1999 when he was first crowned APRC Champion.There is no doubt Katsu is very professional driver, very fast and an expert when it comes to developing the cars. I am certain he has had an influence in the engineering of these cars, certainly he’s been a valuable asset to the team helping to develop and fine tune them. Katsu has a great temperament, even when things have not gone well perhaps a big accident or the car has retired for some reason, Katsu is always very cheerful, friendly and helpful. From a media point of view, Katsu is always ready to help and makes our job very easy. I would expect Katsu has a long future as a driver, his Dad is still driving competitively and look at him!!
Source: Sayo Chiba – WRC Plus