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Tapper Wins Asia Pacific Pirelli Star Driver Title

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
World Rally Championship.jpg
World Rally Championship.jpg

13 October 2008 - A Kiwi rally driver, Mark Tapper, has won the inaugural Pirelli star driver competition for the Asia Pacific region - the prize being a fully-funded opportunity to prove himself on the world stage of rallying in the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship.

The 27-year-old Aucklander was competing in the 2008 Malaysian Rally, a round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) and the nominated event for the second part of the Pirelli star driver competition in this region. Launched this year by the Fdration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the Pirelli star driver scheme sees one driver from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions and two from Europe win the opportunity to compete in six World Championship rallies in 2009 using a supplied Group N or Super 2000 car.

The final details of the package that Tapper and the four other regional Pirelli star drivers, who were all aged under 27 years of age on 1 January this year, have not been announced by the FIA, but competitors are talking about a total package for each driver of 500,000 Euros.

Tapper also finished third overall in the demanding Malaysian event behind defending Asia Pacific rally champion Australian Cody Crocker and Japanese Subaru driver Hiroshi Yanagisawa. Tapper and co-driver Jeff Judd were fastest in seven of the event's 14 stages, demonstrating a consistent performance in their Reece Jones Rallisport-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9.

"It was a battle to keep my mind on the job in the last few stages," said a visibly emotional Tapper.

"I just stuck to a place where I felt comfortable and didn't take any risks. It's pretty hard to describe my feelings right now. But yeah awesome!"

A calculated approach and a relatively problem-free weekend enabled Tapper to keep a level head and drive to match the tough Malaysian conditions.

"We chose to use the slippery wet conditions to our advantage and had the right car and tyres for the job, and feel that's where we won the award."

Tapper's win of such a significant award in world-wide rally terms demonstrates how much he's matured in the past couple of years says long-time supporter Peter 'PJ' Johnston, the driving force behind the campaigns which have helped launched the international careers of circuit racers Scott Dixon and Brendon Hartley.

"We've always known Mark was fast - he's an extremely fast driver, but like many young drivers, he's struggled with a lack of budget and learning to balance his life outside sport with the desire to win," says Johnston whose company has sponsored many of Tapper's rally campaigns.

"Mark drove a very tactical and sensible rally in absolutely extreme conditions. This is a very deserving reward for Mark's mother and father, Jude and Jerome, and their whole support network who have all worked hard to help Mark break into the international rally scene.

We're very proud of his achievement - it's fantastic for New Zealand rallying to have one of our drivers win this Pirelli star driver competition and we're looking forward to seeing Mark compete in selected rounds of the 2009 World Rally Championship," says Johnston. The nine drivers entered the Pirelli star driver competition in Malaysia included recently-crowned New Zealand rally champion Hayden Paddon. But the 21-year-old from Geraldine crashed on day one and suffered electrical issues on day two.

"We regrouped after the first service stop, but Mark was too far in front for us to even think about winning the Pirelli competition," Paddon said. Australia's Eli Evans was Tapper's closest competitor in the Pirelli competition, just one point behind Tapper after day one, but Evans' hopes were crushed after crashing in SS10. The other New Zealanders who travelled to Malaysia to contest the Pirelli star driver competition were: Kirsty Nelson (18, Whangarei); Brad Ayling (26, Inglewood); and Patrick Malley (24, Auckland). None of these competitors completed the challenging event, but the experience of competing outside New Zealand can only be positive for their rallying careers.

Indonesian driver Rizal Sungkar and Indian driver Arjun Rao Aroor finished second and third behind Tapper in the Pirelli star driver competition. Of the 19 entrants in the whole event, only eight finished in the extremely-challenging conditions.

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