Crocker confident ahead of Hokkaido
Three-time Australian Rally Champion Cody Crocker will lead the Tasmanian-based Les Walkden Rallying (LWR) assault on the Rally Hokkaido title this weekend, looking to further build his lead in the Asia Pacific Championship.
Crocker has competed in two of the first three rounds of the Championship and taken the maximum points on offer on each occasion in his Walkden-prepared Impreza WRX STI.
His performances at the Australian round in Canberra and the New Zealand round in Rotorua leave him on top of the points table on 32, five clear of Indonesia’s Rifat Sungkar on 27 points. Japan’s Katsu Taguchi is third with 23 points and LWR’s Eli Evans is fourth on 13.
Rally Rotorua was six weeks ago and Crocker has not driven competitively since, so the Melbourne-based driver is looking forward to getting back behind the wheel.
“Six weeks is a long time between events for us compared to our program over recent years, so I’m super keen to get back into action,” Crocker said.
Crocker has competed in Japan twice before, in 2004 when Hokkaido was a designated event in both the WRC and APRC and then again in the WRC round in 2005, where he was the second Group N car home, beaten only by local rally star Toshi Aria.
His co-driver, Ben Atkinson, has also experienced the local conditions during his time in Japan with brother, Chris, in 2003 and 2004.
“It certainly helps being familiar with the event, the organisers and some of the roads,” Crocker said.
“The WRC and APRC events share some roads and I know the roads and what we’ll need with our set-up and our tyres.”
“The roads are exceptionally narrow, which makes noting them very difficult. So having done them before should give me an advantage over many, though I won’t have any over Katsu [Taguchi] and Hiroshi [Yanagisawa] as they’ve done this rally many more times than me.”
“Pirelli has also had success in Japan, winning both the WRC events held, so I’m confident that we’ll have the tyres and the car to be competitive.”
“I’ve got to say that driving the Impreza WRX STI in this event is pretty cool because it is a real cult car in Japan and the local rally fans get right behind us.”
“From the team’s point of view we’re hoping for a really strong event and that Eli can move up into the top three and we can stay out in front.”
“There is still Malaysia, Indonesia and China to go after this, but now all the top contenders have dropped their one event from the seven, so every rally is vital.”
Team boss, Launceston-based Les Walkden, is sure his team can produce its third win of the season.
“These events are never easy, and you need a bit of luck on your side, but Cody is a class operator and he has a great record of bringing the car home fast but safe,” Walkden said.
“It is a great challenge for us, and the whole team is really looking forward to this event. Subaru winning in Japan is always huge news, so I hope it will be us celebrating on Sunday.”
“It is also a great opportunity for young Eli (Evans). He did really well on the second day in New Zealand after a mistake on the first day cost him pretty heavily, so with a clean drive on both days he’ll be at the pointy end of the field as well.”
Evans and co-driver Matt McAdam know they are on a steep learning curve as they tackle a new event in only their third outing in a Group N Impreza.
“We performed really well in Canberra, then had a major hiccup in New Zealand, so we know we just have to produce a good clean run here,” Evans said.
“We’ll start off carefully and just look to work our way into the event. No heroics early, we’re just looking for a solid run over the two days.”
Leg One of Rally Hokkaido takes place on Saturday July 8, with eight special stages across 138.26 competitive kilometres. Leg Two on Sunday is shorter, with eight stages across just 85.66 kilometres.
The event starts at 7:53am local time on Saturday, 8:53am Australian Eastern Standard time.