A smooth offseason has given homegrown rally driver Rifat Sungkar every reason to believe he is in for a successful season.
Rifat is brimming with confidence ahead of the 2011 Asia Pacific Rally Championship season opener, the Malaysian Rally, in Johor Bahru today.
After two days of testing, Rifat, who will drive a Mitsubishi Evolution X in his debut with the Japan-based Pertamina Cusco Racing Team, said he was satisfied with his car’s performance.
“Everything is great: the car, the engine, the suspension. All are running well,” Rifat said on his official Web site on Thursday. “We’ve been testing the car since Wednesday, and we managed to go nine seconds faster than the time I posted here last year.”
Rifat will renew his partnership with co-driver Scott Beckwith. They finished third in Malaysia last season, but Rifat said with a new team and a new car, he was confident that he could improve on that finish.
“Our main target is still a podium finish; hopefully better than last year,” he said.
The Malaysian Rally, which will run until Sunday, will feature 15 stages covering a total of 233.76 kilometers.
Beckwith said the organizers had not made any significant changes to the route, so it would be “basically the same as last year’s.”
“However, the road is better. Organizers have also fixed several spots that were flooded last year,” the Australian said.
“This will make the race more interesting, and I’m sure we’ll be at the podium.”
Rifat said the Malaysian race would be tough because of the heat and the course’s technical difficulty. “There isn’t so much room for mistakes,” he said. “Once you make a mistake, you’ll break the car.”
The Malaysian Rally will feature 38 drivers. Eleven of those, including Rifat, are registered with the APRC.
Pertamina Cusco Racing will also be fielding a second team in Yuya Sumiyama and Naoki Kase, both from Japan.
Reigning APRC champion Katsuhiko Taguchi and his co-driver, Mark Stacey, will be behind the wheel for the MRF Tyres Team. The 39-year-old Taguchi, from Japan, is also the defending champion at the Malaysian Rally.
Gaurav Gill should be one of the biggest threats to Taguchi’s reign this season. The Indian finished runner-up in 2010, three points behind the Japanese driver in the season-ending standings.
But the MRF team’s biggest competition could come from Australia’s Chris Atkinson and his Scottish teammate, Alister McRae. Both are former World Rally Championship drivers and will represent factory-backed Proton Motorsports, using the latest S2000 Satria Neos.
This year will also see the debut of the Soueast Motor Kumho Team, which will field three racers — China’s Hao Yuan and Fan Fan, and triple British Rally champion Mark Higgins, who won last year’s China Rally.