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Valimaki hopeful of a good show in Rally of Hokkaido

R. Narayanan

HOKKAIDO (JAPAN): It was a bright, sunny day in this scenic island of Japan and Jussi Valimaki will be hoping that the sun continues to shine during the Rally of Hokkaido, the fourth leg of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, which will be held on July 23 and 24.

MRF Tyres' Valimaki, driving a Mitsubishi Evo 8, is way ahead in the APRC standings and he is confident of finishing on top of the podium again if the weather holds out for the next two days, as he feels that the narrow, fast dirt tracks here will suit his style of driving. Despite testing with the new MRF tyres, Valimaki has decided to stick with his old one though he will have a new co-driver (Panu Plosila) for this rally alone as his regular partner Jarkko Kalliolepo is away on a holiday.

New co-pilot

Plosila, also from Finland, has two Finnish championships to his credit as a co-driver. Valimaki was quite pleased with his new companion after the recce.

The other MRF driver, Katsuhito Taguchi, felt so comfortable with the new tyres he has decided to put them to test at once. The Japanese is eager to do well after some forgettable experiences in the last few years here and nothing would please him more than a win in front of his home fans.

Quite interestingly, Mitsubishi has been winning the title every alternate year from 1999 and if one goes by the trend, 2005 may well turn out to be its year.

Arai cautious

Another Japanese Toshihiro Arai, the current World Rally Championship leader in Group N production series, was guarded about his remarks. The Subaru driver said the stages looked difficult and that he was using this rally to prepare for the Japan edition of the WRC to be held later this year. In order to prevent the drivers from using this rally as a preview for the WRC, the APRC organisers have cleverly decided to run the rally in exactly opposite direction.

Meanwhile, there was a carnival atmosphere during the ceremonial flag-off at the Central Park in Obihiro. The high school students of Obihiro (South) made it a memorable start with their delightful dance and music. And the presence of a large number of fans just for the inauguration proved that rallying is quite popular in Japan.

Current standings (after three rounds): 1. Jussi Valimaki (43 points), 2. Geoff Argyle (25), 3. Toshihiro Arai (16), 4. Chee Hong Kan and Katsuhito Taguchi (both 11 points).

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