TAGUCHI TAKES THE ASIA-PACIFIC RALLY TITLE
JAPANESE driver Katsuhiko Taguchi has taken the 1999 F.I.A. Asia-Pacific Rally Championship after hot favourite Yoshihiro Kataoka retired from the final round, Rally China.
The 27-year-old Taguchi had already wrapped up the Asia-Pacific title for the Group N production car class before the tough Chinese round, fought out on treacherously slippery and rough roads in the mountains north of Beijing.
"It's the biggest win of my life," said the young Japanese rising star after surviving many suspension breakages and punctures on his Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. 6 to finish ninth outright and fourth of the Asia-Pacific contenders in the rally - which is also the 11th round of the World Rally Championships.
Kataoka, who drives a much more powerful car than Taguchi - a Group A Lancer - held the Asia Pacific series points lead going into the finale.
And Taguchi went into the event looking only for a good performance in the Group N production class against the world's best - refusing to allow himself to think about the possibility of Kataoka running into trouble.
But the bitterly disappointed veteran was one of many casualties on the first day of the Chinese event, retiring from second place among the Asia Pacific runners after just five stages.
Countryman Toshihiro Arai, in a Group N Subaru Impreza, held the APRC lead briefly before Turkish driver Volkan Isik, driving a Toyota Corolla WRC, took over and was never headed - winning the Asia Pacific championship final round by 3m 50s from Arai, after almost 400kms of high-speed driving on roads rated some of the most difficult in world rallying.
Isik finished sixth outright, behind the surviving entries from the World Rally Championship's works teams - headed by Didier Auriol.
Top international Group N driver Gustavo Trelles' third place in the Asia-Pacific round lifted him into second place in the APRC Group N Cup, with Arai's second spot lifted him to third in the production class final standings.
Previous round winners Kataoka and New Zealander Possum Bourne have ended up provisionally tied for second place in the Asia-Pacific championship.
Despite Isik's win in a Corolla, Mitsubishi wrapped up the Asia-Pacific manufacturers' standings.
Courtesy of: Wayne Munro/Power Pictures