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Crocker wins after tight and hot fight in Indonesia


That's provided he crosses the start ramp in November's Rally of China Australia's Cody Crocker is the 2006 Asia Pacific Rally Champion.

That's provided he crosses the start ramp in November's Rally of China Australia's Cody Crocker is the 2006 Asia Pacific Rally Champion. After the 6th round the Gudan Garam Rally of Indonesia (15-17 September) Crocker now has an unassailable points lead with 68 points out of a possible 70 and has the LWR Subaru driver has won all 5 APRC events he has entered.

The 2006 Rally of Indonesia was the best battle of the series - at one point the three top drivers were separated by 1 second and there was several occasions where there were identical times.

Held on the island of Sulawesi and based in the ancient port city of Makassar the Rally of Indonesia is one of the toughest events in world rallying with ambient temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, thick dust that makes breathing and visibility difficult and roads that are soft, slippery and often rough. Prior to the event Crocker only needed 8 points to secure the title while his closest rival, MRF Mitsubishi driver Katsu Taguchi needed to win - and Crocker not finish, to have any chance of taking the title. Ten APRC teams entered Rally of Indonesia, joined for this event by current P-WRC Toshi Arai in the Motor Image Subaru.

After the ceremonial start in down-town Makassar it was Finland's Jarkko Miettinen who set the early pace winning the first stage by 2 seconds from Crocker, with Taguchi and Arai 6 seconds further back - but on identical times. The only two wheel drive car in the APRC field, New Zealander Mark Tapper in the Ford Fiesta crashed out on Stage 1. "I had a caution in the notes for a jump and maybe hit the brakes a little too hard and we nose dived on landing and broke the radiator. It's the second time this year I have had slowed down and still got caught out" said Tapper back at service. .

Up front the battle raged on Miettinen and Crocker tied for 1st on the second stage both on 14 minutes and 50 seconds, while Arai edged ahead of Taguchi by 6 seconds. In 5th place and 22 seconds behind the leader was Japan's Hiroshi Yanagisawa driving for the CUSCO Subaru team and for this event only, a new co-driver, the very experienced Yoshimara Nakahara. Crocker's team-mate Eli Evans retired at the end of stage 2 with a broken gear-box, "we broke a selector and then grabbed two gears - we're out" said a dejected Evans.

On stage 3 it was Crocker's turn to set the pace going 4 seconds quicker than Miettinen and taking the lead by 2 seconds. Arai and Taguchi continued to fight - again setting identical times. Young Indonesian driver Subhan Aksa (who's family business own the Rally HQ hotel) came out the stage struggling to find gears and loosing over 5 minutes and dropping him to 17th overall and last place in APRC.

After the first service break, it was Arai who came out firing going 7 seconds quicker than Crocker and moving to within 6 seconds of the lead. On the 5th Arai made up that deficit, so that at the lunch-time service break Crocker and Arai were tied for first place, with Miettinen only 1 second back in third. Katsu Taguchi dropped to 6th place after a puncture near the start of Stage 5 that meant stopping and replacing the tyre in the stage, loosing the Japanese driver over three minutes. Any chance of taking the APRC drivers title were effectively over for Taguchi, "Its OK to have a puncture 5 K from the finish, but when its near the start that's bad luck - we had to stop and change the tyre, then we waited for Jarkko to come and then followed in his dust and now because of that loss of time, the championship is over, but we will continue to push hard, anything can happen" said a disappointed Taguchi back at mid-day service.

Yanagisawa had moved into 4th overall / 3rd in APRC and 1 minute and 20 seconds off the lead. Indonesian driver Rifat Sungkar was having handling problems and 4th in APRC, but not sure he could hold off the recovering Taguchi. Fan Fan from China was 7th of the APRC drivers in the Wan Yu Rally Team Mitsubishi. Subhan Aksa gearbox problems continued but he'd climbed up the leader-board to 12th overall, but 15 minutes behind the leaders and 9th in APRC.

The afternoon stages were repeats of the morning stages and while most of the roads held up to a second passage there were plenty of big rocks on the roads to avoid. The skies were clear and the sun heating up with vengeance - the temperature was sitting at 40-41 degrees C in the shade!!

On the 6th stage Arai went into the overall lead by 11 seconds, while Crocker and Miettinen were tied for 2nd - equal 1st in APRC - Indonesia was turning into one of the best battles in APRC for several years. Then on Stage 7 near disaster for Crocker, the engine start overheating from a blocked radiator and air-cleaner, forcing the early leader to slow dramatically. Mean-while Miettinen won the stage to lead APRC and Crocker by 35 seconds, while reducing the deficit to Arai to 10 seconds who still led overall. In the final stage of the day Crocker's problems were cured and he pulled back 1 second on Miettinen, but for the first time this year Crocker was not leading at the end of a leg.

"It was a bit frustrating this afternoon when we had the issue caused by the dirt, but it just goes to show how quickly things can change in a day's rallying," Crocker said. "Frustrating, but not disastrous and we still picked up some valuable points. Second time over the stages this afternoon the roads were super soft and we were scooping up dirt. We were over-heating and losing power across stages six and seven. It was only after the second afternoon stage that we realised it was the air-intake that was blocked and when we cleaned that out we were right back on the pace."

For Jarkko Miettinen this was a moment to savoir, leading APRC and with 3 overall stage wins for the day, but he was aware that things would be different on the second leg, "We are very happy to be leading APRC, the roads suited us today and we could push really hard with no mistakes. However tomorrow could be difficult as the roads are tight and twisty". Winning the leg netted the Finn three valuable bonus points for the drivers championship.

Japan's Yanagisawa was third in APRC, not pushing or taking risks and intend on finishing. Countryman Taguchi had hauled himself back to 4th in APRC, but was 1 min and 37 seconds behind Yanagisawa so a podium finish was out of the question unless those in front hit trouble. Rifat Sungkar had not had a good day with several car problems including the loss of turbo power on SS6 and some handling defects in the morning stages. He was however in a safe 5th position in APRC. Fellow countryman Subhan Aksa was 6th and a long way back, but at least he'd had his gearbox problems resolved and by the afternoon stages was setting respectable times. Both Wan Yu Rally teams retired at the end of the leg. Fan Fan had a slow roll on Stage 8 and the damage could not be repaired in time, while kiwi team-mate Brian Green retired with gearbox problems.

Day 2 was in valley near the town of Billi Billi and for the first time this year Crocker was not first car on the road, that position taken by APRC leader Miettinen in the MRF Mitsubishi. And while he didn't need to win the event to secure the championship, after a big breakfast the Australian was fired up and in the first stage of the leg SS9, reduced the 35 seconds deficit by 13 seconds. On SS10 the LWR Subaru driver took another 12 seconds off Miettinen - the deficit now only 10 seconds. Crocker had the lead back by the third stage of the day and went to the morning with a 2 second lead in APRC. Overall Arai was still leading by 55 seconds in the Motor Image Subaru.

Miettinen was having niggling problems and the tighter roads didn't suit the Finn's flat-out driving style or the Mitsubishi. There was still plenty to go for in the final two afternoon stages but on Stage 12 Miettinen hit a small rock, bending the suspension and with very high temperatures inside and outside the car, the team backed off to preserve their second place and handing the win to Crocker.

At the final control an ecstatic Crocker paid tribute to his team " Its been an amazing weekend, its been so close and when we lost the time yesterday I honestly didn't think we'd get the lead back. I think there's going to be a big team celebration tonight because this had been real team effort - they have worked hard to provide a car that is perfect to drive and so much work went into that".

The overall event was won by Toshi Arai driving the Motor Image Subaru by 52 seconds. His first event with the Motor Image rally team had been a huge success and hopefully he will return full-time to the APRC in 2007 with the same team. Immediately after the podium and champagne, Arai and co-driver Tony Sircombe rushed to a waiting car and with a police escort, drove straight to the airport where a plane was waiting to take them to the next round of the P-WRC Rally of Cyprus.

The final APRC podium position was taken by Yanagisawa after a calculated drive and one that he was just happy to get to the finish and gain more experience of the Asian conditions. Taguchi's troubles continued with an over-heating engine that forced him to back off on the final stages, but he held onto his 4th position. "For me this has been a very tough event, the temperature was hot, but not as much as last year, yet we had so many silly problems and very frustrating to get a puncture when we were in such a good position. The car is good and next event we gonna go for it -nothing to loose". Miettinen had similar thoughts, "We're so close to winning now and with the next event in China this will give us a real opportunity - I am doing the Chinese National Championship so I am very familiar with the conditions".

Indonesia APRC entrants Sungkar and Aka had solid performances but perhaps not the results they were hoping for considering their experience of the event and conditions. This was Aksa's last event on the APRC and hopefully he will return next year to consolidate his experience.

The points battle is interesting. Crocker has won the drivers championship (providing he starts in China) and Subaru also has sufficient points to take the manufacturers championship - even if they don't score a single point in China, which is unlikely. The remaining positions for the drivers championship podium will be settled in China with Taguchi currently 2nd on 44 points and a real fight for 3rd - Yanagisawa is on 33 points, Sungkar 31 and Miettinen 30.

The next and final event on the APRC calendar is the China Rally based in Longyou, Zhejiang approximately 400km SW of Shanghai. The event will take on Sunday and Monday - 26-27 November, 2006.

APRC Results for 2006 Rally of Indonesia Final results (after day two): APRC round:

1. Cody Crocker (Ben Atkinson) Subaru Impreza WRX (3:21.07.0); 2. Jarkko Mettinen (Mikko Makkula) Mitsubishi Evo IX (3:21:37.4); 3. Hiroshi Yanagisawa (Yoshimasa Nakahara) Subaru Impreza WRX (3:24:30.0); 4. Katsuhiko Taguchi (Mark Stacey) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX (3:28.16.9); 5. Rifat Sungkar (M. Herkusuma) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII (3:30.21.1).

6. Subhan Aksa (Hade Mboi)Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII 3:49:28.4

Overall winner: Toshihiro Arai (Tony Sircombe) Subaru Impreza 3:20:14.9

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