The 2011 Asia Pacific Rally Championship was one of the best in many years, with well run events, an increase in the number of competitors, teams and sponsors. The competition throughout the championship was intense and for the drivers and manufacturers title, the outcome not decided until the final round.
As it turned out Proton Malaysia won everything but it wasn’t an easy road. Along the way there has been plenty of disappointment and heart-break for the team, but everything came together almost perfectly in China.
Scotsmen Alister McRae eventually won the drivers title and it was just reward for his and co-driver Bill Hayes dogged determination to
finish, when really at times the Satria should have retired. Three events in a row the Satria engine over-heated through a combination of factors including grass in the radiator at Malaysia, too much water in Australia and New Caledonia faulty head gaskets.
Along the way McRae picked up several punctures including Hokkaido where he had a handy lead, but he came to China leading the championship and in the event was fastest from stage 1 and no-one, not even his team Chris Atkinson could match McRae’s pace through the rough mountain tracks, or the smooth fast concrete roads.
For Chris Atkinson the final outcome was a major disappointment. After being fastest through the year, with wins in Malaysia, New Caledonia and New Zealand the Australian just could not match McRae in China, when it really mattered. And where McRae seemed to keep his Proton going and score points, when Atkinson stopped in Queensland and Hokkaido while leading, the engine was terminally damaged and therefore the Australian scored no points.
Proton did not have it all their own way and Gaurav Gill proved to be a major contender throughout the season and led the championship heading into Round 3 New Caledonia.
The problem was though, for the MRF driver to keep pace with the Protons he had to drive on the absolute ragged edge and eventually he paid the price with three crashes – one in New Caledonia and two in New Zealand. Hokkaido he won convincingly, then had the win taken away by the FIA after they judged the team’s R4 modifications to Gill’s Mitsubishi were not legal.
Gill’s disqualification from Hokkaido effectively handed the championship to Proton and understandably with nothing to gain and feeling they were unjustly punished , MRF pulled the pin and
decided not to go to China.
Worse though is the long-term ramifications. It is possible the MRF Tyres team have gone for good and no matter who was at fault with the debacle in Hokkaido, Gills exclusion from the results could have cost the APRC one of its major teams and an audience of a billion Indians.
The MRF Tyres team did of course win Hokkaido, as second place Katsu Taguchi was promoted to the top of the podium. It was however, the only bright point of the year for last years champion as Taguchi just never showed the spark he has in the past with three DNFs, although when the Japanese driver did finish it, was on the podium – Queensland (3rd) and Hokkaido (1st).
Cusco-Pertamina were a major player this year. Indonesian Rifat Sungkar has always ‘knocked on the door’ of good results but lately lacked the equipment. The Pertamina partnership with Cusco paid immediate dividends with Sungkar and team-mate Sumiyama equal fastest on the first stage of the championship opener in Malaysia, with Sungkar fastest driver of the day on Leg 2.
Sungkar was very fast in New Caledonia, second place and again quickest driver on Day 2 kept the Indonesian in the hunt for APRC drivers points and by China the Indonesian had secured a comfortable third place. His team-mate Sumiyama was entered in the Asia Cup only and his year got off to shocking start with two crashes in Malaysia. The young Japanese driver picked up the pieces though in Japan and China and earned himself second place in the Cup, behind winner McRae.
Flying the Cusco flag this year was Karamjit Singh who pipped Brian Green by one point to 6th in the drivers championship. A former APRC Champion the Malaysian drove one of the 1.6 front-drive Protons in 5 events to win the inaugural APRC Two-Wheel Drive Cup title.
Singh’s Proton-Cusco team-mate Akira Bamba drove another excellent championship to win the Junior Title, but just couldn’t match his older more experienced team-mate to snatch the two-wheel drive cup too. In Hokkaido Singh and Bamba were so evenly matched that going into the last stage of Day 2, they were on equal times for the day. Amazingly they both clocked the same time on the last stage (the 1.2km Super-special) and the points for fastest of the day had to be shared!!
The Asia and Pacific Cups were both hotly contested with over twenty drivers registered in the Pacific Cup. Prominent amongst those and hopefully entered in the full series next year, was Indonesian Subhan Aksa who was at one point third overall in New Caledonia.
Another driver to shine and that will hopefully return in 2012 was Australian Nathan Quinn. The young Australian raised a few eyebrows in Australia when he led overall and then in New Caledonia was a major contender for overall victory, only to retire on the second day. The offer of a drive in China with the Soueast Motor Kumho team was an added bonus and hopefully one thast will give Quinn career a boost.
The teams trophy was added this year and it enabled one-off drives by specialised competitors. The Chinese Soueast Motor Kumho Team made good use of these rules with Richard Mason third for the team in New Zealand and Finlands Jari Ketomaa 2nd in China. The teams title did eventually go to Proton, but Ketomaa almost stole the manufacturers title for Mitsubishi in China, it was that close.
And next year??
Will MRF return??
Is the rumoured Mini team from Europe going to appear?
Who will drive the Proton S2000’s in 2012?
Stayed tuned and have a happy New Year from all the team at APRC TV.