Emma Gilmour will be chasing her third top three Asia-Pacific Rally Championship result in as many starts at this weekend’s Rally Hokkaido in Japan
The Hamilton-based Kiwi and her Australian co-driver Rhianon Smyth have been awarded the fourth seed for the event behind their Motor Image Racing team mate and current Asia-Pacific champion Cody Crocker, former Asia-Pacific champion Katsuhiko Taguchi, and former Indian rally champion Gaurav Gill.
“While Cody and I drive the latest Subaru Impreza WRX STis, Taguchi and Gill are in Mitsubishi Evos. With this being the home rally for both companies it is inevitable that it will be a serious Subaru versus Mitsubishi grudge match,” says Gilmour. “Cody’s mission is going to be to beat Taguchi, while mine is definitely to get the better of Gaurav Gill.”
Crocker beat Taguchi and Gilmour comfortably outpaced Gill on the last Asia-Pacific round, the Whangarei Rally. Indeed, Gilmour’s pace was so strong that she was faster than Taguchi on the second day, and came close to beating him for the whole rally. Despite this, she is cautious about her prospects of going one better this weekend.
“Whangarei was my home event, but up in Hokkaido he holds the local advantage. I expect to see him throw everything into winning, especially as this event is also a round of the Japanese championship, where several top Japanese drivers are lining up to push for the outright win.”
“My plan is to focus on my position within the Asia-Pacific field, and third is the minimum I’ll be happy with. It’s the result we have scored on the last two rounds, so in some respects I’d like to go one better. However I have to be mindful that while I have competed in Hokkaido before, this is Rhianon’s first time.”
A further minimum requirement for Gilmour is to consolidate her current third placing in the Asia-Pacific Championship. This is especially important as the following rounds of the series – in Malaysia, Indonesia and China – will be completely new to her.
Being held on the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, the Hokkaido event has a unique feel, quite different from popular images of Japan as a densely-populated land dominated by large cities.
“The rally itself is based in the provinces, and runs through lush forests and farmlands,” explains Gilmour. “The stages are typically fast but very narrow, with the greenery coming right to the road’s edge, and often hiding ditches and other nasty hazards.”
“That means you have to be very accurate in your pre-event pace-notes, and very precise in your driving. The other potential hazard is if conditions are wet; then those stages can get incredibly slippery.”
Rally Hokkaido runs over two days, with 11 special stages totalling 170km scheduled for Saturday 11 July, and seven stages totalling just 61km scheduled for the Sunday.
Asia-Pacific Rally Championship Points (after three rounds)
1, Cody Crocker (Australia) 32pts;
2. Katsuhiko Taguchi (Japan) 23pts;
3 Emma Gilmour (New Zealand), 16pts.