I’ve said it many times before and I will continue to repeat it like an iPod with a damaged touch screen (is that the 21st Century equivalent of a broken record?), but I have the utmost respect for clubman rally drivers who choose to step out of the comfort zone and test their machinery on international-level events. I was therefore delighted to hear last spring that Kohei Izuno was going to eschew domestic rallies in favour of a few runs on the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, with the aim of challenging for some of the series’ junior honours.
New Caledonia, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Japan – the Asia-Pacific calendar reads back like a list of places I’d like to visit, so I was more than a little jealous to hear Kohei was planning to run a selected campaign. If I were to be successful in a lottery, I may just take a year out and follow the APRC round (actually, what am I saying? If I won the lottery, I’d be out there doing the championship in a Toyota GT86 CS-R3 or similar).
For those not familiar with the international rallying structure, the Asia-Pacific is one of the ‘regional’ rally championships like Europe and Africa that sit one rung below the World Rally Championship. Rallies are run over several days and cover long distances, much like their WRC conterparts. Historically, the humid climate, rapidly changing weather and rough terrain of the region has made the APRC an excellent training series for the rigours of top-flight rallying, with past winners including Carlos Sainz, Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae. Whilst entries have been down a bit over the last few years – a real shame given the quality of the rallies on offer – the fact the 2014 title was won by Skoda works pilot and European champion Jan Kopecky shows the high regard in which the championship is still held.
I’ve been keenly following the progress of Kohei Izuno and his twin brother rally driver Kenta since I met Kohei in Nagano way back when. Much of the appeal was that the Izunos were exactly like the junior competitors I’d had experience with in Scotland – young, daft as a brush and bursting with enthusiasm for rallying. I’d also been amazed by their ingenuity in raising funds to support their endeavours, establishing the annual Izuno Cup snow time trial which continues to run to this day.
Unfortunately Kohei and co-driver Noritaka Kosaka suffered a premature end to the Malaysian Rally in a spectacular crash that also saw the creation of the world’s very first Suzuki Ignis pick-up. The subsequent round in Japan ended in mechanical failure, and with that a line was drawn under the season. The in-car video of the Malaysia crash has been online for a little while, but I hesitated posting it as it hadn’t been listed as being publicly viewable until a few months back. Now that the in-car is properly in the public domain, I thought it was worth linking to and writing about.
(video: Noritaka Kosaka Rallying)
Even though the video doesn’t end well (events start to unfold just after 4:30), there is something brilliant about seeing a driver throw a cage, belts and a set of Bilsteins into an otherwise standard car and head out onto the stages of an FIA international rally. Let’s hope we see more heroics like this in 2015 and beyond.