New Zealand’s Mark Tapper and co-driver Jeff Judd tackle their third event – the Acropolis Rally (11-14 June) – in the World Rally Championship (WRC) as Pirelli Star Drivers this weekend
Tapper and Judd are one of five teams who won the inaugural scholarship competition established by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and tyre manufacturer Pirelli. Driving a Ralliart Italia team-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X the pair contests six events in the Production World Rally Championship (P-WRC) category of the global series. This weekend, the pair tackles what is reputed to be the toughest event on the calendar.
In readiness for the blistering heat through the twisty mountain roads of Greece, South Auckland-based Tapper has supplemented his pre-event preparation with altitude training for the three-day competition.
“It helps you to be more efficient with oxygen and general fitness,” described the 28-year-old Tapper of his programme to be a top rally driver. “I have also increased my regular training programme and have been training with plenty of clothing on to ensure I’m working in the heat.”
With in-car temperatures expected to rest at 50 degrees Celsius during competition, Tapper and Judd will also be utilising cool-vests between the competitive stages when they can remove their triple-layer fire protective suits.
“We both need to get the body temperature back down quickly, plus we will also be drinking fluids non-stop.”
Along with Christchurch-based co-driver Jeff Judd and his parents Jerome and Judy, Tapper has a group of New Zealand tourists following them on-event.
“It’s been great to have the support over here and see the Kiwi flag flying. Now we just need to repay them all for coming over with some decent viewing and hopefully a result to go with it.”
With Greece his third event, on-going mechanical issues with the brand-new car have prevented Tapper from successfully completing either of the first two rounds. However the gap between the previous round in Sardinia and pre-event testing in Greece has allowed the Italian team to remedy the situation.
“We’ve now tested the car and are confident the engine miss problem has gone,” explained Tapper of early testing in Greece with other cars contesting the event. “Now we’ve just got to get the handling right.”
During testing, Tapper set fastest time of the five Pirelli Star Driver competitors and was third fastest outright in the P-WRC class.
Following two-days of reconnaissance of the roads used in the 16-stage rally, the rally starts with a ceremonial feature on the Thursday evening near the base of Loutraki. With five stages on Friday, six on Saturday and five on Sunday, the rock-strewn roads make for a relatively low-speed event which has the adverse affect of depleting the airflow through the engine bay and car interior.
“I’m sure it will be tough, real tough,” added Tapper. “It is really unfortunate; we have a lot of extra pressure due to the car letting us down in Sardinia so we will make a game plan and try sticking to it. The speed is there and the car is fast, now we just need to line everything up and I’m sure a top-five P-WRC result is achievable.
“All I want is to finish. A big ask, I know, but I will push the car to the finish if that’s what it takes!”
Competing against 46 other teams in the 350 kilometre rally, Acropolis Rally of Greece is the seventh of 12 WRC events this year. Tapper and Judd, in the number 65 Lancer, will start as 34th car on the road behind the WRC manufacturer-backed and P-WRC fields.
Tapper and Judd also contest Rally Finland (30 July - 2 August), Spain (1-4 October) and Great Britain (22-25 October) to complete the Pirelli Star Driver events. They also intend to contest Repco Rally Australia (4-6 September) outside the Pirelli Star Driver programme.