APRC – Rally of Canberra preview
- 30th May 2007, 2:47pm
After two rounds the score is one-all in the fight for the 2007 Asia Pacific Rally Championship title.
Round one was on the tropical island of New Caledonia and was won by 2005 Asia Pacific champion, Jussi Valimaki, who returned to the series after a year in the WRC. Valimaki took the lead on the second day from his team-mate Katsu Taguchi. Both MRF Mitsubishi drivers were in a class of their own, finishing over four minutes ahead of their nearest rival, New Caledonian Patrick Yania, also in a Mitsubishi.
If Round 1 was an all Mitsubishi podium, Round 2 was the complete opposite, with Subaru securing the top four spots in the APRC.
The Rally of Whangarei was the New Zealand leg and marked the return of last year’s champion, Cody Crocker, with a new sponsor and new team. "We've signed a two-year deal with Motor Image (Singapore) and this gives us some long-term commitment to build on," said Crocker prior to the start. The Australian champion is joined in 2007 by Rifat Sungkar, the young Indonesian who earned his drive with several podiums and a strong finish in last year’s APRC.
As MRF Mitsubishi opted to drop the New Zealand round (teams register for six of the seven rounds), it became a Subaru benefit with Crocker taking the top spot, Japan's Hiroshi Yanagisawa in the Cusco Subaru second, and Sungkar coming home third for the Motor Image team. Adding weight to Subaru's dominance was New Caledonian, Jean-Louis Leyraud.
The next round in Canberra this weekend is the first event of the year where the main contenders, excepting Yanagisawa who has dropped this round, will all meet.
Crocker is on his home event and understandably confident. “There's a bit of competition this year with Valimaki, Taguchi and Yanagisawa all driving well, so we have to keep ourselves focused on the task.”
Valimaki is not fazed by taking on Crocker on home territory. "Of course it’s always easier for a driver on his home roads, but I've got quite positive feelings now, it will be a big battle, a big fight. I think in Canberra we will have good pace - we need to have, of course,” said Valimaki after winning in New Caledonia.
Team-mate Katsu Taguchi is equally confident he can win. The Japanese driver led for most of the New Caledonian event, but lost out to Valimaki through tyre choice. Looking ahead to Canberra, Taguchi said "Jussi chose the mud tyre that was the correct choice for him - but this tyre doesn't suit my sideways style and it is better to finish second than lose time and points with a puncture. Overall I'm very happy with my driving and I think I can win in Canberra".
A battle to watch in Canberra will be between Indonesian Rifat Sungkar and India's Naren Kumar. The Team India driver had a dismal time in New Zealand with gearbox problems and punctures, but has so far this year set quick times when things have gone well. Sungkar has the benefit of Crocker's knowledge and quickly got to grips with his new Subaru New Zealand car. Both drivers have competed in Canberra before, Kumar in 2002 with the MRF team, and Sungkar last year with the Indonesian Rally Team.
With its base in Canberra and stages in the nearby forests, the Rally of Canberra begins on Friday June 1 and finishes on Sunday June 3.
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