2008 – A Turning Point

Photo courtesy of Joel StricklandOne of the exciting things about the start of each season is finding out which series and events drivers and teams will be contesting.

This year, much of the attention has been on Cusco Racing, the Japanese team expanding to two cars this year. And to make the biggest possible impact, Cusco have recruited Dean Herridge to drive their second car for the Pacific Cup leg of the series.

Herridge comes into the APRC with a great pedigree. He’s driven for Subaru factory teams in Australia, Japan and China, has been the privateers champion in the ARC for the past two years and has a Rally New Zealand PWRC win to his name. And this year, he’ll be competing head-to-head against his old team-mate, Cody Crocker.

I caught up with Dean to find out how the drive with Cusco came about, his future in the APRC, and his plans to beat reigning APRC champ Crocker.

BM – Dean, it’s great news about you teaming up with Cusco Racing for the Pacific Cup leg of the APRC this year. We’ve not seen you in a Cusco car before, so can you tell us how the deal came about?

DH – Look, I don’t really know to tell you the truth. Sometimes you can chase deals all over the place and they never come to fruition.

I’d knew some of the (team) members, and Yanagisawa, I’ve competed against he a few times. We worked reasonable closely with them in China. I drive for Subaru Rally Team China in the domestic championship, and the APRC round up there was our last round as well. We had a strong showing there, we lead the event there until we suffered a gearbox problem, and we were using the same tyres as Yanagisawa, and from there discussions started.

They were looking to expand to a two car team, and that’s just how it formed. So, to put a finger on it, it was probably knowing Sugimora, one of the coordinators, but also the result in China was critical in the overall scheme.

BM – Is the Pacific Cup, the New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand rounds, the only rounds you’ll be competing in, or is there a plan to go on a do the rest of the season?

DH – Look, I think when we discussed it late last year, I still have a contract with Subaru China to run this year, so that makes it a bit complicated with which car you would run for that event (China), and they were also torn about running their domestic driver (Yuya Sumiyama), who they run in the Japanese domestic series and wanting to expose him to some international events.

So we were torn between what events we could run, so we then decided why not concentrate on the Pacific Cup. It’s new to the championship this year, it would be something to hang our hats on, for both myself and them, and it would be a good way to form the partnership. So I think, if we have a strong start to the year, and everything is going well, there’s a chance we may look at gaining some experience on some other events as well.

But realistically, the way I’m looking at it is that we have three rounds with them, and three strong events I hope, Canberra is a strong event of mine, and my home round, I’ve had some success in New Zealand at WRC level, so hopefully we can put some strong results on the board for them, and hopefully it’s the start of a relationship that can go on beyond 2008.

Photo courtesy of Subaru AustraliaBM – The question that jumped into my mind when I heard the news was whether you were going to be running with Bill (Hayes). You’ve had a long relationship with Bill, but he’s already signed up with Motor Image to run with Rifat Sungkar this year. Are you going to be able to lure him back?

DH – The short version of that is ‘No’. Bill will run with Rifat in the Asia-Pacific. I’d been in constant contact with Bill about my campaign for this year, but he’s chosen to take on-board the Motor Image program, which includes all the Asia-Pacific events. We may find ourselves teaming up for some China events, and Bill and I are a good combination. We get on well in the car. But as it stands, Bill will be in the opposition car. Well, not opposition, as we’re both still in a Subaru, but under a different banner.

BM – Is Cusco providing the car, or are you taking your own car along?

DH – No, the deal with Cusco is for myself and the co-driver to go and join their team. They’ll be building it, preparing it and running it, and it’s purely as a second car to run alongside Yanagisawa. So I’m just driving for them and they are looking after all that. I’ve already been to Japan, co-incidentally to drive a course car on a snow and ice rally, and was fortunate enough to spend a day with their team and meet and greet some of their staff and engineers, and have a few press photos taken.

One of the other reasons I’m excited about this deal is that Cusco are a very professional company and motorsport team, and I think they build very good (rally) cars. So I’m hoping that that combination, and our experience, can start to work together to bring their team some success this year and beyond.

BM – They did have a few reliability problems last year. Hiroshi had engine blow-ups in China and Indonesia, and some other issues in New Zealand. How do you see that panning out, because I guess Hiroshi is going to get more of the teams attention.

DH – Obviously it’s really important for him to have a good crack at the championship, he’s doing all six events. And part of my role, being in the second car, is to try and assist him with that. Maybe if we’re struggling for pace on a particular rally, and they’re frightened to change to setup on the lead car, or the car that needs to score valuable points, the advantage of having the second car is that you can run different setups and whichever car is producing the better stage times then you can hook across. So there is an advantage of having two cars, and I understand my role and he is the one who is doing the whole series to try and win it. And if I can assist in any way, then I’ll be pleased to do so.

As far as reliability issues are concerned, I don’t know much about them from last year. But I have complete confidence in the team and the structure they’ve got. They’re running to ’07 car, which for them is a smart move. So I think they’ll be strong, and from of the conversations I’ve had with them regarding the engineering and mechanical tuning and things, that’s their department and I’ve got full confidence that they’ll have those things sorted for this year.

Photo courtesy of Joel StricklandBM – Well that raises another interesting question, in that you’ll be competing head-to-head against your old Subaru Australia team-mate Cody Crocker. You’ll be a very strong competitor in that Pacific Cup, but you could also get in his way a little bit. He’ll be looking further along to the whole series, and there’s the potential for you to stealing points from him.

DH – Yeah, well, as you say, this scenario is one of the things that’s making the APRC so interesting this year. Cody has won the past couple of championships, MRF have a very strong team, and with Cusco now coming in with two cars, it’s really forming up to be a really good battle.

…Scott Pedder will also be in the championship, so you have (out of) what used to be the top five cars in the ARC, three of those will be in the APRC. So some of those rivalries will be coming back. Cody and I are still good mates, and we’re still contracted together to do work with Subaru Australia. Look, I think it’s going to be fascinating, particularly to still be in a Subaru but in different teams, just like it was in China last year. It just adds another facet to the championship which looks like it will formulate to be one of the better years ever.

BM – You did four events in China last year for Subaru China, have you got more events coming with them as well?

DH – The plan with them is that I’ll be competing in the entire season. Our team plans to contest five, one of those being the final round of the APRC in November, and the first round starting in March. So my first event for the year will be with Subaru Rally Team China, and then a couple of weeks later we head off to New Caledonia. So we will have had one event under our belt, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of competing in that championship.

We’ve delivered some very good results, and to be honest the competition is very, very good. It’s similar to the APRC, it’s a group-N based, Subaru vs Mitsubishi battle. And with some really good quality drivers with the likes of David Higgins and Martin Rowe and Juha Salo from Finland, and couple of really fast guys from the local scene. So I’ve really enjoyed that, and I think that series has outshone the Australian championship, particularly in the last 12 months.

BM – We’ve seen you in the Australian championship for the bulk of the last decade, and you’ve run event’s here and there overseas, in Japan and New Zealand. But last year you did those events in China, and with this announcement, does it mark a turning point for you personally? Your future being more in the international events in asia-pacific area, rather than just being an Australian domestic driver?

Photo courtesy of Subaru Rally Team ChinaDH – I think you’d have to say ‘yes’, not that it’s been by design or me trying to force it that way. When Subaru announced their withdrawal from the Australian championship, we picked up some tarmac roles with them over the last couple of years, and (I’m) still very strongly aligned to the brand.

But you might say that with the fall of the Australian championship since Subaru left, although we’ve run there as a privateer with very strong support from some of our sponsors, we’re running the team ourselves. It is hard to be a privateer. In some way’s you’re finding with Cody, myself, and some of the other drivers who have lost factory support in the last couple of years, we’ve all been pushed offshore, simply because there are more opportunities in the asia-pacific region.

So, saying that, it is probably something of a turning point, and something that I’m pretty excited about.

Photos courtesy of Joel Strickland, Subaru Australia and Subaru China.
Story courtesy of APRC Live.