Thursday 13 September 2001

Katsuhiko Taguchi of Team Mitsubishi Ralliart enters
the 2001 International Rally in Hokkaido driving
a Group A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Event starts from Obihiro on Saturday, September 15th


The 2001 International Rally in Hokkaido will take place from Saturday, September 15th to Sunday, September 16th. The rally will be held in the Obihiro area and will cover areas of eight different towns and villages. This will be the second international rally held in Japan following the successful Japanese Alpine Rally held in Gunma Prefecture back in May 2001.

Hokkaido is a very beautiful island; the countryside and forests will provide the competitors with some very demanding road conditions, very similar to the World Rally Championship events in New Zealand and other European events. The total distance will amount to 848.49 kilometers, of which 162.51 will be competitive special stages. As Japanese domestic rallies go, this is the largest ever held so far. Entrants have now totaled 28 cars. With Spike Corporation as its main sponsor Katsuhiko Taguchi, currently Japan's top rally driver, will join forces with Team Mitsubishi Ralliart to compete in the first-ever event. He will be behind the wheel of a Group A specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Taguchi will be supported by even British engineers and mechanics from Ralliart Europe, the team behind the successful Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart Team now competing in the FIA World Rally Championship.


Katsuhiko Taguchi was enthusiastic about his participation in the upcoming event saying, "Once my entry was decided I flew to Finland in August. Then I got together with the engineers and mechanics and worked on the car settings, because if I'm going to enter this event I definitely want to give it my best." The car he will be driving will be a Group A specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the very same car that helped Finland's Tommi Makinen take the WRC World Champion crown not once but 4 times! Despite the fact that it is based on a production car, the Evolution went up against the top machines, the newly established World Rally Cars of the European teams, with impressive results. This year, after 10 grueling WRC events completed, Mitsubishi maintains the lead in both the Manufacturers' and Drivers' series.

"I drove the Group A machine for the first time during the Cyprus Rally in May. The car is very quick, it really reminds me of Makinen's aggressive driving style," adds Taguchi when asked about the Group A Lancer Evolution. "A simple action will make the rear sway; I was a little hesitant about the unique settings, but I was able to put in some driving time in Finland and I think I got the hang of it," he added.

Chairman of Ralliart Europe Andrew Cowan will also lend his support as team director. "I am very pleased and excited that our team will be part of the International Rally in Hokkaido," commented Cowan. "I am also delighted to have Katsu Taguchi driving our Lancer Evolution; he is a driver of great intelligence and potential, having successfully competed all over the world, including a very solid and determined effort in the 2001 World Championship, Rally of Cyprus only to retire near the end of the event with a mechanical problem. Having spent many years working with Mitsubishi's World Championship team and meeting many Japanese competitors around the world, I know it must feel like a fantastic achievement to have an international rally in the country which has a great opportunity to be part of the Asia Pacific Championship and a World championship round," added Andrew Cowan.

The rally will run through 12 special stages established in the northern and southern mountainous areas of the Tokachi plains. The area is similar in landscape to England and New Zealand with its vast farmlands and abundant forests. Representatives of the event commented, "We chose this area specifically with the World Rally Championship in mind. However, in order to hold an event of this scale in Japan, with its strict traffic restrictions, Hokkaido seemed to be the only obvious choice."The first leg of the rally begins from the Obihiro racetrack on Saturday September 15th. The event will also end here on Sunday September 16th. The route for leg one consists of six special stages and will bypass Ikeda Wine Castle and traverse a forest road on Mt. Kosaka located northwest of Ashiyoro and 1.59 km of off-road circuit on the Mt. Shika forest road. Total stage kilometres. Approx. 23.76 km.

Leg two takes place on Sunday September 16th east of 10 Wins Circuit. The route will weave through the Wakaribetsu forest road, where the competitive stages will consist of 15.14 km of sand and riverbed. The next stage will run through the Sennozo forest road in the forests of Kubo and will consist of 14.37 km. The remaining 18.85 km will finish on the Kohana forest road.

The local populations who live around these parts are not very familiar with the forest roads. The Mt. Kosaka forest road rises up and down but is not drastically difficult. However, after completing the long continuous road, it then leads into the mountains. That's where the real skill comes in. A local farmer says of the mountain road, "I know how to go in, but I've never really ventured into the forest." The forests of Koana and Shinpo with its mountain streams are rarely traversed by car. With the recent rain, the roads have been made even more treacherous.

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