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MRF Tyres ranks highest in the J.D. Power Asia Pacific Customer Satisfaction Survey 2003.

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Team MRF Tyres of India tasted success in the 2004 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship series and it was in no small measuredue to a brilliant drive by their Japanese driver Katsuhiko Taguchi (co-driver Mark Stacey). The 32-year old 1999 APRC champion, piloting an untested Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8, put in a command performance en route to winning the TCL China Rally held at Huizhou, Guangdong province on October 23/24,2004. The Indian team, in fact, had two podium finishes as the second Team MRF Tyres driver, Armin Kremer of Germany(co-driver Timo Gottschalk), the former European champion and winner of 2003 APRC title, finished a creditable third, behind Taguchi and Karamjit Singh (co-driver Allen Oh) of Malaysia.

Taguchi was a class apart in the two-day event that was run on dusty and bumpy countryside roads that put a premium on reliability of the cars as well as the tyres. The fact that he had not tested the brand new Evo 8 did not seem to worry Taguchi. He set ascorching pace to be the quickest on most Special Stages that won him 5 bonus points,3 for being fastest on day one,and 2 points on the second day when his team-mate Armin was faster; apart from the 10 that he earned for emerging the Overall winner.

Such was the daring drive by Taguchi that he even saw off a 10-second penalty that was slapped on him for reporting early at one of the Time Controls . Also, he had the car set up to near perfection and it helped him to withstand pressure from his main rival Karamjit.

The conditions demanded precision driving and Taguchi, who had two DNFs this season in New Caledonia and Japan besides third place finish in Australia and New Zealand, was equal to the task. "The car worked well and we only made one slight mistake today, brushing a tree," he said after finishing Day One with a 14-second lead over Karamjit who was in a Proton Pert.

On Day Two, Taguchi drove astutely to nurse his overnight lead and at the finish, had 16.4 seconds to spare to Karamjit. He did step on the gas to be the quickest in one of the stages, but generally, he was intent on bringing the car back to the finish without any mishap. "I like China and its nice to win here again. Now we look forward to India and we will try and win again,"hesaid.

Meanwhile, Kremer, desperately needing a win in China, had to endure differential problems on Day One that cost him precious time, apart from a fractured knee that he had suffered in a skiing accident in Europe. However, never one to be written off, the 36-year old German upped the pace on the next day to pick up valuable bonus points.

"Today was good for us; we could go maximum with the car and we were the fastest APRC competitors and earned a maximum three points. We will see what we can do in India," said Kremer.

Both Taguchi and Kremer admitted that the latest MRF assymetric tyres contributed to their high-speed performances on both days of gravel. A total of 120 special

tyres specially designed for the Chinese terrain and climate were air freighted to China a week before the rally.

The other leading APRC contender, veteran Geof Argyle of New Zealand, was way off the pace in view of faulty set-up. Though he put in some good times on Day Two, he could only finish a distant fourth in the APRC, followed by the 2001 Group N champion, Nico Caldarola of Italy.

The China Rally had a total of 55 entries with the APRC and the National Chinese rounds being run concurrently.

The results (Round 5 of APRC): Katsuhiko Taguchi/Mark Stacey (Team MRF Tyres, Evo 8) 1 (2hr, 8 mins, 59.9secs); Karamjit Singh/Allen Oh (Proton Pert) 2 (2:09:16.3); Armin Kremer/Timo Gottschalk (Team MRF Tyres, Evo 8) 3 (2:10:9.8); Geof Argyle/Steve Smith (Evo 8) 4 (2:14:14.7); Nico Caldarola/Paola Cecchini (Subaru Impreza) 5 (2:15:29.3; Brian Green/Fleur Pedersen (Evo 8) 6 (2:29:23.1); Dermott Malley/Patrick Malley (Evo 6.5) 7 (2:31:10.1).

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