Day One honours at the Rally Hokkaido were expected to be taken by the two current leaders in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship -- Cody Crocker in a Subaru for Team Les Walkden Rallying and Katsuhiko Taguchi in a Mitsubishi for Team MRF Tyres. Instead, at the end of Leg 1 there is a third name that not only broke the pair at the top, but is actually breathing down the neck of Crocker, who just about managed to hold on to the lead.
On a day when the weather stayed perfect for racing, though there were fears of rain, it was surprising to see the cars slipping on the gravel tracks. And though the going was not expected to be easy -- most drivers found the tracks narrow and slippery even after the pre-race recce -- the drivers still appeared to lose control occasionally.
Team Cusco Racing’s Hiroshi Yanagisawa had a time of 1 hour 30 minutes 53.3 seconds, 47.3 seconds off Crocker. But going by the way this race is progressing, that may not be too much comfort for Crocker. Starting fourth in the morning, Yanagisawa was impressive throughout the eight stages, and that was reflected in his standing.
“We have to keep the same pace tomorrow because Yanagisawa is very quick. We may have got some time on him this afternoon, but we also want to get bonus points, so we need to stay in front. It’s not an easy task,” Crocker admitted at the end of the day.
MRF`s Taguchi is further off in third spot with a timing of 1 hour 31 minutes 21.6 seconds, almost a minute and a half off the leader. But with his experience on these tracks, and the past record, he remains in contention. But it was surprising for him to blame the tyres for the timing. “We selected the wrong tyres for the conditions in the afternoon session, but we will try harder tomorrow,” he said. He will have to, since a win here is vital for the team’s chances of winning the championship, as well as his own championship standings.
Also, he’s already dropped out of the New Zealand leg of the APRC 2006 and has to compete in all further events. The second MRF team of Jarkko Miettenen and Mikko Markkula, also in a Mitsubishi, is placed fourth and would ideally try to finish their race -- he hasn’t managed to do that even once this year -- rather than aim at a top spot.