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Subaru rally driver Cody Crocker is out to build on his Asia-Pacific Rally Championship lead when the second round of the series, the International Rally of Whangarei, takes place in New Zealand this weekend.

Crocker will be in the MotorImage 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX for the second time, having debuted the car successfully at the opening round in Queensland last month.

The reigning APRC champion leads the championship with 16 points, the maximum on offer to date. Japan’s Katsu Taguchi is second on 12 in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, with Crocker’s fellow MotorImage driver, New Zealander Emma Gilmour, third with seven points.

Top points at their home event was the perfect start to the season for Crocker and co-driver, Ben Atkinson.

“We're ecstatic with the way Queensland worked out, considering we were in a new car with limited testing.

“Maximum points is great in anyone's book and we did suffer our own setbacks, such as a flat tyre, so to be able to overhaul our competition to gain those points gives us huge confidence going into the next round.”

The Victorian has been a regular performer in New Zealand for well over a decade, and he rates the roads in the North Island as some of the best for rallying anywhere in the world.

“As always, the NZ roads are in fantastic form,” Crocker said.

“We've come from Queensland roads which were very fast, but quite rough in places, to the traditional Rally NZ roads used in the World Rally Championship many times - fast flowing smooth roads.

“You get the feeling that you can really attack the corners and be really aggressive. They really are almost perfect roads.

“The only real problem that we have over here is being first car on the road and sweeping all that gravel off the surface for those behind.”
 
His new Possum Bourne Motorsport prepared-car was faultless on debut, and Crocker thinks it will only get better the longer the season goes.

“It was a great result in our first round. Not only for us, but the whole team with Emma (Gilmour) and Rhiannon (Smyth) coming home on the podium as well - a rare feat for any team.

“We've actually improved on a few areas with the differentials in the car, and this should give us better grip so we can go even quicker. Well, that's the theory, hopefully we can put that into practice this weekend.”

Crocker knows Championships are won by building a solid foundation early in the season. He is in no doubt as to the importance of this round in his quest for a fourth straight APRC title.
 
“Our strength in the past has been our ability to score good points every round. That won't be easy with Katsu Taguchi always a threat and we're expecting a great battle again this weekend.”

While they are not APRC registered competitors, Crocker expects a tough competition from a number of local drivers for outright honours this weekend.

The Victorian was first APRC, third outright, in New Zealand last year.

“Our goal is 16 points this weekend, but if we are in a position to push for outright honours on Sunday as well, then that is always nice. We face different conditions to those not registered as we are out there first up every time sweeping the roads. But we’ll see on Sunday morning how we are placed, and if we reckon we can get both the points and outright without taking too many risks, we’ll give it a go.

“There are a host of fast Kiwis, including Hayden Paddon and Chris West who are both past winners of this rally, who will be there for outright, but we won’t be distracted by what they are up to on Saturday. We’ll just look at the results after day one and then we’ll make a plan for day two.

“The opening morning is huge really. The second stage, Cassidy, is 30 kilometres long and the very next stage, Mititai, is 34 kilometres. There is no service in between, so an error or bad luck through these stages can cost you big time.

“Then we do them again in the afternoon. At least second time through they will be swept, so the first pass is the most important for us, getting through cleanly and not losing too much time.”

The rally gets underway with a ceremonial start in the township of Whangarei on Friday evening. The real action commences on Saturday morning. Leg One takes competitors across eight stages and 159.72 competitive kilometres, with another eight stages and 121 competitive kilometres following on Sunday before the finish at around 2pm local time.

APRC Points table after Rally Queensland
1 Crocker, Subaru, 16
2 Taguchi, Mitsubishi, 12
3 Gilmour, Subaru, 7
4 Gill, Mitsubishi, 6
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