Saturday, March 2, 2024

Takuma Aoki wins wet and wild Asia Cross Country Rally

Takuma Aoki‘s promising motorcycle racing career was cut short when he was paralysed below the waist after a testing crash in 1998, but he proved he can still be competitive and win on four wheels as he won the Asia Cross Country Rally cars overall on Saturday.

Aoki has raced at the AXCR since 2008, with 2023 marking his first victory in the event. Racing a Toyota Fortuner for Toyota Gazoo Racing Indonesia, his total time of 11:46:22 beat team-mate Tubagus Moerinsyahdl by four minutes. Although Aoki did not win any stages, he took the overall lead with a runner-up finish in Stage #3 and never looked back.

Despite being in a wheelchair due to his injury, Aoki regained his stride in car racing. He raced the Dakar Rally in 2009, though he retired from the event, before winning in the GT Asia Series. Aoki later competed in the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy and 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Garage 56 entry.

While the Fortuners occupied the top two for much of the rally, defending winner Chayapon Yotha of Team Mitsubishi Ralliart finished third. He was the only other driver besides the top two to record a time below thirteen hours at 12:00:40. Fellow Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Katsuhiko Taguchi, who raced for the team in the World Rally Championship in the late 1990s and 2000s, finished his AXCR début in eighth.

On two wheels, Jakkrit Chawtale dominated from start to finish. Last year’s champion Hironori Nishimura finished second but over an hour back with 14:35:37 to Chawtale’s 13:24:46.

The rally ran from Pattaya in Thailand to Pakse in Laos. As expected out of August weather in southeast Asia, the race was plagued by heavy rain and floods throughout its six stages, which caused the fifth leg to be shortened. During said stage, the cars were temporarily halted due to a large river created from flooding which only bike riders could cross via a wood bridge before the four-wheelers tried to do so with mixed results.

While not a result of the weather, the first stage was also briefly stopped after a roadbook error caused Bandit Panthita and Sanjay Takale to crash into each other head-on on a narrow road, leading to a bottleneck of cars. All involved were not injured, though they were among the race’s seven total retirements.

Conversely, Trần Quang Tiến rolled into a ditch the next day before being pulled out by fellow Vietnamese driver Phan Triệu Dũng Tâm. Trần eventually finished twenty-second overall.

Masahito Watanabe and Masahiro Ozeki were officially classified twenty-first and last of the bike entrants, though they competed in a separate sidecar category on their Ural Gear Up. Despite rolling their sidecar on the first leg and getting stuck in the mud multiple times throughout the race, they managed to reach the finish with a time of 34:20:38, which would have ranked them sixteenth among bikes.

Considering the rally’s location, much of the grid unsurprisingly hails from countries in the area such as the host nations, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The all-Israeli team of Raz Yehoshua Heymann and Hillel Segal overcame needing help from a farmer after getting stuck in a field to just missing the cars podium in fourth; the two raced a prototype buggy built by Segal using Mitsubishi parts. Michael Freeman, who finished twenty-fifth in a Ford Raptor, was the lone Australian in the field while Priscila Cristina Chen Hsu of the United States called the shots on Yi Wen Chen‘s Toyota Revo that finished three spots back.

Class winners

Car

Class Overall Finish Number Driver Co-Driver Team Vehicle Total Time
T1D 1 105 Takuma Aoki Ittipon Simaraks, Songwut Danphiphattrankoon Toyota Gazoo Racing Indonesia Toyota Fortuner 11:46:22
T1G 16 122 Harianto Memen Phophipad Chonlanat, Buchari Rimhalsyah Indonesia Cross Country Rally Team Toyota Hilux 15:51:42
T2A-D 7 129 Thongchai Klinkate Banpoth Ampornmaha Isuzu Suphan Explorer Liqui Moly Rally Team Isuzuku D-Max 13:46:57
T2D 17 140 Motoaki Yamazaki Michihiro Asai SRS-Osaka-Welport Rally Team Isuzuku D-Max 15:54:42

Bike

Class Overall Finish Number Rider Team Vehicle Total Time
M-1 2 1 Hironori Nishimura Team Japan Husqvarna TE250i 14:35:37
M-2 1 17 Jakkrit Chawtale JC Dirt Shop Rally Team KTM 500 EXC-F 13:24:46
Sidecar 21 66 Masahito Watanabe, Masahiro Ozeki Rising Sun Racing Ural Gear Up 34:20:38
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