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

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Jussi Valimaki of Team MRF Tyres showcased his patience and maturity as well as speed while notching his second consecutive victory in the 2005 Asia Pacific Rally Championship in New Caledonia (May 20-22). In conditions that demanded smart driving, Valimaki bided his time after finishing Leg 1, some 40 seconds behind team-mate Katsuhiko Taguchi. When the Japanese ace retired with engine problems on Sunday, Valimaki seized his chance to romp home a comfortable winner.

Heavy rains that lashed the pinhead of this island in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday -Day 1--rendered the Special Stages located about 240 Kms from Noumea, extremely slippery.

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Under the circumstances, tyre choice played a crucial role. Taguchi opted for mud tyres while Valimaki preferred normal rubber to their respective Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 cars. These decisions had a bearing on their performances.

Taguchi (co-driver Mark Stacey) set a scorching pace from the outset to dominate the proceedings. In fact, it was a near-flawless drive from the Japanese ace as he ended the day looking all set to make up for the DNF (Did Not Finish) in Canberra, the first round of the APRC.

Meanwhile, Valimaki (co-driver Jarkko Kalliolepo) encountered differential problems on SS-2 on Day 1 that cost him considerable time. So, the 31-year old Finn wisely decided to nurse his car rather than play catch up.

It turned out to be a smart move, for Taguchi retired on Sunday with radiator problems, leaving Valimaki all alone in front. The Finn then took charge and recorded his second win in as many outings to consolidate his position in the Championship standings.

The other top APRC contender, Geoff Argyle of New Zealand, had a wretched outing. A problematic intercooler cost him eight minutes on Day One and it virtually knocked him out of contention. The Kiwi though made a strong comeback on Sunday and eventually ended up on the podium, a result he felt would boost his confidence ahead of the next round in his home country of New Zealand.

Two other APRC-registered drivers, Brian Green and Dermott Malley, had little to show for their efforts. Green had an off-road excursion while a rear differential problem ended Malley’s run.

Sandwiched among established drivers was Malaysia-based Kan Chee Hong (co-driver Bernard Chin) in Wan Yu Rally Team (China) colours. A first-timer to APRC. Kan drove rather conservatively, more intent on finishing the event in one piece, something that he achieved, to finish second behind Valimaki.

Kan’s team-mate, Fan Fan (co-driver Yong He), also adopted a similar strategy to mark his APRC debut with a fourth place finish, ahead of another new-comer Julien Lenglet from Vanuatu (co-driver Karine Galinie), driving a Honda Integra. A notable absentee was the 2004 APRC champion Karamjit Singh of Malaysia (co-driver Jagdev Singh). The other big name missing was Toshi Arai of Japan who preferred to continue his run in the World Rally Championship (production cars) in Cyprus.

The next round in Rotorua, New Zealand (June 17-19) should witness a more competitive field with Arai and Karamjit likely to be back in the fray.

The final results (APRC):
Championship standings (Top 3, after two rounds):
Valimaki 31 points; Argyle 20; Kan Chee Hong 10

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