Entrants are from various countries.
Out of the 61 entrants 35 will compete in a Mitsubishi.
The first ever Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) event to is held in Japan. The Rally Hokkaido 2002 will host the 4th event on the APRC calendar. The 4-day event will make its start on September 5th (Thursday) and finish on the 8th (Sunday). The event will take place around Obihiro City, Hokkaido and cover some 1,077.62 (out of which 260.66km will be special stages.) Last year, the event was held as consideration as a round of the either the APRC or the World Rally Championship (WRC). As a result of this event, it was formally named a round of the APRC for the 2002 season. There will of course be plenty of talented entries from Japan but teams will also join the Hokkaido event from England, Italy and Argentina making the event truly international.
Of particular interest is the entry of Japan's Katsuhiko Taguchi and Fumio Nutahara both in Mitsubishi Evolutions. International entries include Production Car World Rally Championship (Group-N) Karamjit Singh of Malaysia (Proton Pert), The APRC veteran Possum Bourne (New Zealander - Subaru Impreza) and Ed Ordnyski, a top rally driver who has experienced 8 Group-N victories in Group-N in Australia (Australian-Mitsubishi Lancer). Marcos Ligato (Argentina - Mitsubishi Lancer)
Nobuhiro Tajima will compete in the Suzuki Ignis (Japanese model name- Swift) in Super1600 (Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC). The Suzuki managed to land 3rd in class on the Rally Deutschland. But the Suzuki's performance in the front-wheel drive with a normally aspirated 1600 cc engine) will be of considerable interest.
Will Taguchi, Singh and Bourne all compete in Group-A?
Will 1999 and 2000 Japanese Rally Champion Fumio Nutahara will be the one to beat out the formidable Group-N rivals from abroad?
The mountain areas, which include hills and various plains regions in the north and southwest of Obihiro City, will be the staging area for the event. Total distance will amount to approximately 1,100 km, which will include almost 270 km of SS (=Special Stage) making it a formidable international event. The longest SS traverses Group-Avel-covered forest roads totaling 27.28km. Leg 1 will run from SS2 to SS4. In Leg 2 there is a 20.83km SS. Japanese rally special stages tend to be notoriously short but finally its seems a competitive section worthy of the WRC has finally been realized.
There are various drivers that will be competing in the event. There will be teams who have been competing regularly in the Production Car World Rally Championship. The current top runner in the Production Car World Rally Championship, Karamjit Singh of Malaysia will be competing in the Proton. "Karamjit has competed in about 25 events a year so has he gained considerable experience," says Katsuhiko Taguchi who will be running against him in a Group-A spec. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Taguchi also has considerable experience with a 1999 APRC Champion title under his belt. He competed in the British Rally Championship this year gaining valuable experience building on his wide-ranginGroup-Ally career.
" I was a little weak on low-speed cornering, but in the British Rally Championship I experienced plenty of that. On the Hokkaido Rally there's Group-Avel on the stages and deep wheel tracks begin to appear. How to avoid them is my biggest worry." Singh and Bourne will probably be the fastest. There hasn't been a Japanese driver that has beaten Bourne yet.
Two years ago Taguchi entered the Malaysia Rally (APRC) he showed considerable potential against rival Bourne but subsequently was forced to retire. In the Australia Rally (WRC) he managed a difference of only about 1 sec. per kilometer.
But what worry the most of the drivers competing in the Hokkaido Rally are the formidable forest roads. Those mountain roads are going to be tough for not only Singh but for Bourne as well. All-Japan top driver Fumio Nutahara will probably show the greatest potential here.
"I sat next to Mr. Nutahara and he gave me some pointers regarding those ruts but it was quite difficult. You can't simply absorb the special skill and experience of an All-Japan Champ in one sitting " says Taguchi. However, the colorful arrays of Group-N drivers competing in the Hokkaido Rally are very skilled. It's not rare to see Argentine's Marcos Ligato running top in Group-N on a WRC event. In 2001 he competed in the Finland Rally and won in Group-N beating out other event specialists. It's unthinkable that a driver of such caliber would hesitate about surface conditions.
The Italian team, "Top Run" has considerable experience in FF1600 and Group-N with their entry in the WRC. Nico Caldarola (Italian - Mitsubishi Lancer) will certainly show some skilled driving.
After verifying the entry list, we see the next generation of WRC drivers and a top class battle in Group-N. Compared to other APRC events, the Hokkaido Rally with its array of top drivers promises to be a truly international event.
Yutaka Awazuhara and Tajima will be competing in the 2000cc and under class driving a Suzuki Ignis. "We'd like to see how the JWRC spec. Super1600 will run. It's a sort of test for our entry into the upcoming Great Britain Rally (WRC). Even if there is a possibility of retiring, we'll certainly do our best," says an enthusiastic Taguchi. Compared with other events of the APRC or the WRC where high-speed are the norm, the Hokkaido Rally stages are quite narrow and low-speed. The out-in-out layout of course its considerably more difficult. You have to learn how to run "on the rail" so to speak. This is where Japanese drivers will have a chance to show their true potential. This is where Fumio Nutahara, who has mastered low-speed cornering, can take up the challenge.