Rally Hokkaido preview
May 17, 2010

Scotsman Alister McRae will aim to build on a strong start to this year’s FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship by challenging for victory on Rally Hokkaido, which starts in Japan on Friday (May 21).

McRae and the PROTON R3 Rally Team stunned the opposition with a blistering start to last month’s Malaysian Rally, the opening round of the seven-event APRC season. Unfortunately for the former British Rally Champion, an engine fault struck his Satria Neo S2000 just as he was looking a safe bet for a season-opening victory.

After the tight, twisty and technical stages in Malaysia, McRae is ready to let the MEM-built PROTON fly on the sweeping gravel roads of Japan’s northernmost island.

PROTON is no stranger to success at the highest level of global motorsport, having won the 2002 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship.

Rally Hokkaido is one of the most popular rounds of the APRC. It’s not hard to see why. The local population of Makubetsu and Obihiro, the areas of Japan’s Tokachi region where the rally runs, turn out in force to celebrate and support the rally’s arrival, turning this event into a noisy and colourful carnival of motorsport. Such is the popularity of the sport in this region, a 50,000-strong crowd for the ceremonial start is a regular occurrence.

Tokachi is known for extreme temperatures, with an annual temperature range of 60 degrees Celsius. The record low winter temperature for the area is -38.2 degrees, while the opposite end of the scale is a July high of 37.8 degrees. The average for this time of the year is around 18 degrees with rain possible.

The stages on the event run to the north-west of Makubetsu, except the exceptionally popular Obihiro spectator stage next to the Kita Aikoku service park. This 1.20-kilometer test opens proceedings one hour after the ceremonial start on Friday evening and then runs a further three times during the rally.

After such a strong start in Malaysia, all eyes will be on former British Rally Champion McRae in Japan, but the Scotsman, who now lives in Western Australia, admits his fellow PROTON driver Chris Atkinson is likely to be right up there setting the pace with him on Rally Hokkaido.

Atkinson, co-driven by Belgian Stephane Prevot, has a strong record in Japan. On his first trip to the World Rally Championship qualifier which also ran across these roads, he won his class by an astonishing 10 minutes in 2004. Twelve months on from that result and Atkinson was celebrating his first ever WRC podium, taking third place for the official Subaru team. Atkinson then collected two fourth positions in the next three editions of the event.

McRae and Atkinson will test the Satria Neo S2000 in Japan on Wednesday afternoon, before conducting a two-day recce of the route on Thursday and Friday morning.

McRae said: “I have never competed in Japan before, so I’ve only got a rough idea of what to expect. I’ve watched some footage from Rally Japan and a lot of the in-car, so this gives you a good flavour of the stages to come. They look quite fast in places, but really narrow as well. They don’t seem to flow too much. I would say the key to this event is going to be getting an accurate set of notes from the recce. The big thing for us in Japan is that this event really should suit the car more than Malaysia did – and we led that rally, which shows the pace we’ve got in the PROTON. The one thing we shouldn’t have in Japan is the same kind of fierce heat we felt in Malaysia, which will make the car much more comfortable. I think our big competition here is going to be Katsu Taguchi. He won the opening round in Malaysia and, this being his local event, he’s done it a great number of times. The result we’re after for PROTON is two podiums, with Chris [Atkinson, team-mate] or myself on the top step.”

Event data:
Round: 2/7, FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship
Based: Makubetsu, Hokkaido
Stages: 18
Liaison distance: 722.67km
Competitive distance: 220.97km
Total distance: 946.49km
Shakedown: Obihiro superspecial (Friday May 21, 1200-1300)
Pre-event press conference: Hotel Grand Vrio (Friday May 21, 1500)
Post-event press conference: Hotel Grand Vrio (Sunday May 23, 1740)
Time difference: Malaysia is GMT+9hrs

Event timetable:
Friday May 21
Ceremonial start – Kita Aikoku 1800
SS1 Obihiro 1 (1.20km) 1900

Saturday May 22
SS2 Sipirkakim Reverse 1 (25.12km) 0805
SS3 Kunneywa Reverse 1 (25.25lkm) 0838
SS4 Rikubetsu 1 (2.73km) 0925
Service – Rikubetsu 0930
SS5 Sipirkakim Reverse 2 (25.12km) 1113
SS6 Kunneywa Reverse 2 (25.25lkm) 1146
SS7 Rikubetsu 2 (2.73km) 1233
Service – Rikubetsu 1238
SS8 Sipirkakim Reverse 1 (25.12km) 1421
SS9 Kunneywa Reverse 1 (25.25lkm) 1454
SS10 Obihiro 2 (1.20km) 1807
SS11 Obihiro 3 (1.20km) 1816
Service – Kita Aikoku 1821

Sunday May 23
SS12 Otofuke 1 (6.29km) 0632
SS13 Ashoro 1 (12.73km) 0757
SS14 Honbetsu 1 (10.78km) 0901
SS15 Otofuke 2 (6.29km) 0952
Service – Kita Aikoku 1037
SS16 Ashoro 2 (12.73km) 1325
SS17 Honbetsu 2 (10.78km) 1429
SS18 Obihiro 4 (1.20km) 1555
Finish – Kita Aikoku 1630


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