South Auckland rally competitor Mark Tapper will pave new ground when he contests a tarmac round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) driving the three-day Rally de España over the weekend of 2 to 4 October
The Spanish rally is the fifth and penultimate Pirelli Star Driver event for 28-year-old Tapper and his Christchurch co-driver Jeff Judd. It’s also the first time the Kiwi crew has competed in an all-asphalt event.
Tapper drives a Ralliart Italia-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X as part of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) driver scholarship programme, and says the new challenge serves to motivate him further.
“For the little tarmac driving I have done, the results have been good. But for the likes of Pirelli Star Driver team-mate Martin Semerád, that is all he has done as rallies in the Czech Republic are 100% tarmac. So we will be a little behind the eight ball and going a little bit in to the unknown.”
Following a high-speed accident at Rally Australia early in the month, Tapper has been spending a lot of his time getting that car repaired.
“I had planned to be doing some tarmac tuition and testing; unfortunately with what happened in Australia it’s taken a lot out of that preparation. Although I’m still working with Alister McRae, who is helping me get in to the mindset for tarmac, which I believe is driving as smoothly as possible.”
McRae’s expert assistance has Tapper clear on what he and Judd need to concentrate on when it comes to pre-event reconnaissance and planning to use the right Pirelli tyre as they follow the World Rally Championship teams through each stage.
“From what I’ve heard the roads are smooth and wide and regarded as the best tarmac in the championship. But, there are huge cuts that you have to follow, because if you don’t you’re going to run over gravel on tarmac which will have absolutely no grip. There is always a risk of puncture as you follow the clean path – so it could all be interesting!
“We get a mixture of soft and hard tyres, so we have to work out when to use them. That’s a lot more strategy and forward planning than the other rallies we have had so far when we’ve just had the one tyre type to use.”
It will also be the pair’s first visit to the Spain, with the event based out of the resort region of Costa Daurada.
“I am looking forward to Spain; it’s meant to be quite an enjoyable place.”
Contested over 353 kilometres broken in to 18 special stages, many teams bring specialist drivers that will further test the Kiwi team’s ability. Tapper and Judd are one of five Pirelli Star Driver teams using the new Mitsubishi Lancer to compete against 14 World Rally Cars and 65 other crews driving a variety of modern vehicles.
Tapper is expecting their latest evolution Mitsubishi to fare better following a number of development improvements during the inaugural Pirelli Star Driver season which started in early April in Portugal. Tapper’s season with the Pirelli-backed programme which comprised six rounds of the 2009 WRC concludes with the Wales Rally Great Britain in late October.