Are we seeing the return of Japanese competitors to New Zealand rallies?
The 2016 International Rally of Whangarei will welcome four Japanese teams to compete in the first round of the 2016 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship. Cusco Racing, Ahresty Rally Team, Cherish Rally Team, and Astronaut Rally Racing are currently shipping cars and equipment to New Zealand, especially for the event starting 29th April.
Cusco Racing, by far the most experienced Japanese rally team in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship will enter the series for a tenth season and will run Group N Subaru Imprezas built in-house for international drivers, Mike Young from New Zealand and Sanjay Takale from India.
The Cusco Racing team have won numerous FIA titles including the APRC’s Asia Cup four times, the APRC Production Cup two times and for the past two years have finished second overall in the driver’s championship with Young and co-driver Malcolm Read.
Looking to add to their international experience is the Ahresty Rally Team with driver Fuyuhiko Takahashi and co-driver Shigeru Ikeda entered in a Subaru Impreza GRB. Ahresty Corporation is a big manufacturer of automotive parts and their rally team has a long history in Japanese rally championship events.
Lead driver Takahashi has taken part in Rally Japan 5 times and Rally Hokkaido 8 times with his best result being 5th overall in last year’s Rally Hokkaido. Ahresty and Takahashi made their international debut in the International Rally of Queensland last year, although that event didn’t go quite to plan after crashing out on both days. Takahashi made the comment at the time ‘these roads are very hard to read, we must learn to make better pace notes in the future’. Their target is to get more experience from the Pacific rallies and for Whangarei, to finish with no damage as after the finish, the team will ship the car to Australia for the Rally Queensland.
The Cherish Rally team is returning to New Zealand after Makoto Kawahara loved his first experience of New Zealand rally roads so much, that he just had to come back again. The Japanese driver successfully competed and finished 2013 Rally Whangarei with co-driver Sae Kitagawa and the Cherish Rally Team, managed by former APRC Champion Katsu Taguchi. ‘Cherish’ is a team and rally shop owned by Taguchi’s father Seiichiro Taguchi who built up a huge following competing at WRC Rally of New Zealand in the eighties and nineties.
Kawahara will enter 2016 Rally of Whangarei again with the Cherish Rally Team and although neither Katsu or Seiichiro Taguchi is able to be in New Zealand, Kawahara will have the benefit of experienced co-driver Osamu Yoda to guide him on the event. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 that Kawahara will drive has a colour scheme based on Peaches and Muscat grapes that his home region of Okayama in the southern part of Japan’s Honshu island, is famous for.
Tatsuo Koizumi has also experienced the New Zealand roads, competing in the WRC Rally of New Zealand in the mid-nineties. Koizumi is the CEO of an electrical technology company called ‘Astronaut Co., Ltd’ and as a passionate rally fan decided on his return to the sport, to form his own team ‘Astronaut Rally Racing’. With fond memories of the New Zealand roads Koizumi has opted to enter International Rally of Whangarei in a Subaru Impreza GRB, prepared by Streetlife and coordinated by Prolinks.
Kouzumi’s co-driver for this event is Takumi Takahashi who competed in the 2013 Asia Pacific Rally Championship alongside Hiroshi Asakura who had a huge crash in his Subaru Impreza at Rally Whangarei before completing the rest of the championship in a Proton Satria.
The four strong entry of Japanese Teams is warmly welcomed to the 2016 event by Willard Martin, Chairman of the International Rally of Whangarei organising committee. “New Zealand has enjoyed a long history of hosting Japanese competitors at our International events and we are delighted to welcome the four teams to Whangarei next month.”
The International Rally of Whangarei starts with an opening ceremony on the evening of 29th May on the Te Matau ā Pohe bridge followed by two days of competition, comprising over 270 km of fast gravel stages to the north & south of Whangarei.
For further information go to www.rallywhangarei.co.nz