Auckland’s Mark Tapper is fit and ready for the Australasian round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) – Repco Rally Australia – being run on roads in northern New South Wales from 2 to 6 September 2009.
The 28-year old from Brookby is contesting the Australian event outside his normal programme of competition as a Pirelli Star Driver, which takes in select rounds of this year’s WRC.
Being joined by his regular co-driver Christchurch’s Jeff Judd in Australia, Tapper will switch from the Pirelli-backed left-hand-drive Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X he’s using in the WRC events to an older model EVO 9 in right-hand-drive configuration run by Kiwi team Reece Jones Rallysport.
The last time Tapper drove this car, he won the Pirelli Star Driver competition for the Asia Pacific region in Malaysia. This gave Tapper the opportunity to be one of five drivers from around the world to participate in the driver development programme backed by tyre manufacturer Pirelli and the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).
“It is the third event the EVO9 has ever done and everything in it is new again: engine, turbo, gearbox and suspension. So I’m looking forward to a rally with what should be 100 per cent reliability,” said Tapper whose year in the brand-new Ralliart Italia-run Mitsubishi EVO X has been dogged by mechanical gremlins.
Part of the preparation for Australia has seen Tapper and Judd contest the recent Possum Bourne Memorial Rally. The pair set a number of fastest stage times in the 200km, so it was a chance for them to complete their own checks before undertaking the two days of allocated reconnaissance prior to the three-day competition in Australia.
“Our business relationship inside the car has only gotten stronger and our trust in each other has grown a lot; in the weekend I surprised myself with some of the times I did. We didn’t feel like we were attacking, pushing or taking risks – things were comfortable, and we were setting fastest stage times.”
Heading to Australia on Saturday 29 August, Tapper will participate in a test day permitted for Production World Rally Championship (P-WRC) cars – the class in which he is entered. Tapper will use latest development Proflex suspension, assisted during the test by former WRC competitor Alister McRae.
The tenth round of the 2009 World Rally Championship, Repco Rally Australia will use 344km of gravel road split in to 35 stages. The northern New South Wales location is being used for rally competition for the first time after the previous 19 WRC Rally Australia rounds were based in Perth.
“From what I’ve heard the roads are not too dissimilar to New Zealand except you can substitute pine trees for gum trees,” commented Tapper. “The roads are reasonably fast, not super wide and even have reasonable camber to them. I think it’s awesome going to a rally where no-one has been on the roads before, even the Australians – so it’s an even playing field for everyone and I’m looking forward to it.”
Having contested four rounds of the WRC this year, (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Finland) Tapper says their pace should be competitive to challenge for a top-three P-WRC placing.
“Realistically the ultimate would be to score a P-WRC podium – that’s what I’d be aiming for. Certainly we want to be in the top-five of P-WRC.”
Suffering a broken arm and shoulder injury in June, Tapper has been working with physiotherapists to ensure his fitness and strength allows him to concentrate on competition at world level.
“I guess looking at last weekend’s Possum Bourne rally, the arm was a lot better than I thought it would be. For one day and over 200 kilometres, it didn’t faze me at all, so I’m happy the arm won’t be a problem. The six weeks of doing very little has meant it will take twice that to get back to my previous fitness level.”
Read more: rally news on www.autotrader.co.nz