Five entries in the opening round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship doesn’t seem all that impressive, but the revamped APRC is taking a softy, softly approach in 2019 after an almost total upheaval of the series.
Back in the 1990s there was talk that the APRC would overtake the World Rally Championship as the world’s foremost rally series.
It was a time when Japanese manufacturers were at their peak in world rallying, and factory teams from Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota ensured that the APRC was ‘the’ place to be seen.
Carlos Sainz, Ross Dunkerton, Possum Bourne and Kenneth Eriksson were all series winners, while three-car teams would see the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Tommi Makinen also competing regularly.
Since then the APRC has continually been won by some of the world’s top rally drivers. Cody Crocker, Alister McRae, Chris Atkinson, Jan Kopecky and Pontus Tidemand all come to mind.
In recent years, however, competition has been thin on the ground, thanks in no small part, to Japanese manufacturers moving away from rallying until Toyota’s recent return.
In a bid to reinvigorate the APRC, championship organisers have this year introduced a qualifying system, the first two rounds of which are in New Zealand – at this weekend’s Otago Rally, and at next month’s Rally of Whangarei.
The leading Kiwi driver after the two events will then have the chance to head to the Grand Final in China, to be held in late October.
There are similar qualifying rounds in Australia, and further events in Japan and Indonesia.
The Otago Rally will see a three-way battle for supremacy, although on paper you could argue that Hayden Paddon just has to finish to take the chocolates.
His Hyundai i20 AP4 will battle the Holden Barina of David Holder and the Mazda 2 of Andrew Hawkeswood, while a second generation Hawkeswood, Jack, will drive a second Mazda 2 AP4.
Regardless of the small entry numbers though, it’s great for the APRC to be thinking outside the box, to be trying something different, and to start the slow process of elevating the once great championship back to its former glory.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this first step in the APRC’s rebirth should be seen as a step in the right direction, rather than an expensive FIA championship event with only five starters.