Round three of FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, Rally of Whangarei was held from 6-8 June around Whangarei, 200km north from Auckland, North island of New Zealand.
The New Zealand roads are favoured by the world top rally drivers. The camber of the roads means there is a big fall on both sides of the roads, and using the cambers effectively is key to gaining quick times on the New Zealand stages. This event includes stages formally used for WRC stages; including the famous bridge jump where Marcus Gronholm rolled a few years back.
CUSCO RACING entered three cars; Hiroshi Yanagisawa, Australian Dean Herridge, whose aim was to achieve FIA Pacific Cup title, and Yuya Sumiyama competing in his first rally outside of Japan. It was the first time Cusco had entered three cars, the squad determined to claim the Pacific Cup title.
On the gravel stages, starting order is critical. Those starting with an early road position have to ‘sweep’ the roads clear of loose gravel for the cars which follow. This time Yanagisawa started third and Herridge fifth, meaning they would be at a disadvantage.
The weather for day 1 was clear, but there were some damp patches on surface. Being winter in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand weather can be unpredictable and there was a chance of rain during the day. Saturday held two loops of four stages interrupted by mid-day service.
Yanagisawa struggled to find a good setup on the slippery gravel surface, while Herridge faced trouble with his on gearbox on stage 2. CUSCO RACING cars use a Cusco-made ‘dog-box’. The Group N category is restricted with its range of modifications, so the gearbox has to use certain genuine parts. In this particular case, the trouble was caused by a failure of one of the genuine parts, causing Herridge to lose 5th gear. Because he had to drive the remaining two stages before service, Herridge was not able to push as he would like.
However, with Herridge having a big chance to win the Pacific Cup title, the Cusco mechanics made a big effort, swapping the gearbox within the scheduled 20 minuet service.
They also did the routine work on Herridge’s car and sent him back to the afternoon stage without any penalty! (A ten second penalty is applied for each minute over the scheduled service time). Herridge moved up to 4th APRC until end of day 1.
Yanagisawa followed Herridge and finished the day in 5th place for the APRC crews.
First-timer Sumiyama made cautious during first loop, and increased his pace on the second loop, finishing day 1 in 17th overall.
Herridge’s object on day 2 was to gain the Pacific Cup. After finishing the first two rounds in 2nd, Herridge only needed to finish in 4th position. With a big margin between him and the front runners, he decided to keep the position and ensure he finished.
Yanagisawa made big changes on his car for for day 2. With a better car setup he narrowed the gap to Herridge, and drove consistently and finished in 5th.
Herridge put in solid times all day, controlling his pace, keeping 4th place, and claiming the first Pacific Cup title.
Sumiyama drove at his own pace in the technical NZ stages. He was looking to finish the event and gain valuable experience, however he fell victim to a crest just 8km from the finish line, and ran off the road. Regrettably he retired from the event, however gained lots of knowledge from his first competition in outside of Japan.
Dean Herridge – “I’m very happy and hope team is too! When I joined the team, my object was this title. I achieved it by finishing the three rallies in 2nd, 2nd and 4th, so I’m very satisfied. Team had done good job and changed the gearbox without any penalty. So I’m very, very happy!”
Hiroshi Yanagisawa – “I’m bit unsatisfied as having quite big gap from guys in front. I was not able to get good feeling with setting on first day, so made big change for second day. Then I got feeling and made push, but time was not closed to front. I had not exact trouble or didn’t make mistake, so there should be some to think about in overall aspect. However, in positive side, I’ve got team mate from this season which accept to get more data, so we will be able to use for rest of season. Now we are going to Hokkaido where my home country and having plenty of data, so I absolutely will push hard.”
Yuya Sumiyama – “My last rally is Rally Japan in 2007 and this rally is first time in last six month. Also I have very new circumstance with new team, new rally, so I drove first loop very cautiously. I got my pace from second loop, but somehow I was not able to set better time. I found many of assignment; i.e. how to make pace note effectively. I had heard about rally in overseas a lot so far, but competing by myself is big difference indeed. I’ve learnt a lot from this event, so I would like to use this experience steadily. From Hokkaido, my campaign for Asia Cup will start, so I’m looking for to get point at every round consistently.”