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GP Week : Issue 32
>>WRCnews Crocker the Champion, Tapper the Star in Malaysia AUSTRALIAN Cody Croker has become unbeatable in the FIA’s Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) for the third year running while New Zealander Mark Tapper was confirmed as the Pirelli Star Driver (PSD) for the region. Tapper was the most successful driver at the Shoot Out held during the Rally of Malaysia and thereby wins the chance to drive six rounds in the 2009 WRC. The penultimate round of the 2008 APRC acquired an importance far beyond its usual status, having been selected by the championship organisers as the event where the region’s candidate for Pirelli’s Under 27 Star Driver programme would be chosen. The system used was novel. The PSD winner would be the fastest driver over the stages rather than the highest finishing eligible driver. The top three drivers on each stage received 3-2-1 points, irrespective of whether they qualified as a finisher on the rally or not. The event was run in the format of a normal APRC two day event, in the palm oil estates of South Malaysia, on roads with uniquely weather-sensitive characteristics, which were especially challenging after recent heavy rains. The event started dry but midway through the first day the heavens opened again and the conditions become more treacherous than ever! Crocker was APRC favourite even though Katsuhiko Taguchi arrived as series leader, on account of the event selection rules. Both drivers soon became embroiled in a close fight for the lead but when the rains came the Japanese driver went off the road. Crocker finished the first day more than two minutes in front of another Japanese driver, Hiroshi Yanagiasawa. Behind them, third-placed Gaurav Gill retired with a holed sump, while behind them the PSD candidates had an horrendous day. On the first stage New Zealander Brad Ayling went off; two stages later his fellow compatriot Haydon Paddon did the same. Dermot Malley had steering problems, James Russell had undercar damage and both Kirsty Nelson and Rizal Sungkar found the conditions too demanding to carry on. As the first day progressed it was clear that two drivers were well ahead of the others – Australian Eli Evans, brother of Australian champion Simon, and Tapper. Evans potentially was better placed, but lost a lot of time when he punctured and could not change the wheel. After eight stages Evans had 16 driver points, Tapper 15. On the second day Evans was the fastest PSD on the first stage but then went off on the second stage. Paddon restarted, but Tapper scored fastest times on all the remaining stages. Final scores were Tapper 30, Evans 19 and Paddon 15. Last Chance Tapper SUCCESS in Malaysia was quite the biggest career opportunity for 27 year-old Aucklander Mark Tapper, the oldest of the contenders for the Asia- Pacific Pirelli Star Driver place for the 2009 WRC. A user mostly of Mitsubishi Lancer Evo cars, he recently turned to Ford Fiesta ST cars in order to broaden his experiences and in one of these cars he won his class in the 2007 WRC New Zealand Rally. Two years earlier he had finished best New Zealand driver in ‘05 in a Mitsubishi. One of Mark’s most important moves was to accept a drive in a very old Subaru on the third round of this year’s Malaysian championship in order to gain experience of Malaysia’s extraordinary rally roads. The car broke down, but the organisers then allowed him to work as zero car driver for the rest of the rally. Every kilometre of experience gained on these roads was invaluable. It helped him to bring his Mitsubishi to the finish of the Rally of Malaysia to earn the career chance of a lifetime. “That experience made all the difference. I think I was the only person at the Shoot Out who wanted it to rain!” he commented. “I really want publicly to thank my family who made it financially possible to come up here. It was a now or never moment in my rallying career and we made it.” 17