From left: Hideki Takayabu, Hitoshi Takayama, Emil Axelsson, Pontus Tidemand, Mike Young and Malcolm Read on the podium with Skoda representatives holding the Manufacturers Cup
By Malik Gunatilleke in Longyou, China
After two days of gruelling driving along an unforgiving track, EZY-Cusco’s Mike Young battled to a podium finish behind Japan’s Hitoshi Takayama and MRF’s Pontus Tidemand who drove to yet another victory in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship’s China rally.
Day one almost spelt catastrophe for Young and his co-driver Malcolm Read when their Subaru toppled along a straight road as Young’s power steering had malfunctioned. The EZY-Cusco driver had been experiencing problems with his power steering all morning on the first day despite claiming that the previous day’s steering problems were no cause for alarm. Young’s team struggled to find an explanation for the problem which ultimately led to a near rally-ending crash on the final stage of day one.
“We had no power steering all day and the last stage was quite slippery. On a straight piece of road the car started to go left and I couldn’t turn the steering wheel. We went straight on and the bank had a lip on it which flipped the car,” he said.
The China rally is notoriously unforgiving and the drivers’ predicament was only exacerbated by the wet conditions. Despite not having a lasting solution to his steering problems, Young had an early sight at second place with MRF’s Gaurav Gill crashing out in the first stage. Sri Lanka’s Dinesh Deheragoda also bowed out of the race when his car experienced some technical issues during the second stage.
However, with Asia Cup leader Hitoshi Takayama still in the race, Young’s tumble on the final hurdle of day one may have seen his hopes of claiming the Asia Cup dissipate even before the final APRC leg in India.
Fortunately the damage caused by the crash did not knock the Kiwi duo out of the race completely as Read took the initiative and got the car flipped back over with some help.
“Malcolm and I got out of the car and were running down the road to try and get some people to help flip the car over. Credit to Malcolm though, he’s the one who really got us back in it,” Young said.
The Kiwis’ woes on day one were not through as both their front tyres went flat shortly after their restart, which meant that they had to change both tyres during the final stage, setting them back further.
Nevertheless, Young was able to make it through the stages in time and keep his dreams of another podium finish and a clear shot at the Asia Cup still alive. With Gill’s early exit from the rally, Young was also buoyed by a shot at moving up to second in the APRC standings. The second day brought further good news for Young as R. Mason had to withdraw from the race ensuring a podium finish for Young upon completion. Despite his steering problems, day two presented no further hiccups for the duo which saw them complete the rally as one of just three to do so. Following the rally, Young told the Daily FT that he was ecstatic at the final outcome when so much went wrong during the first day. The crucial decision to carry on despite what many may have considered a knockout blow earned its just rewards in the end.
“When you’re sitting upside down all you’re thinking is ‘oh no, upside down again, we’re not going to finish’. So I’m really happy to have made it out of that and to the finish line,” he said. A visibly excited Young stated earlier this week that the China rally would be a learning experience for him and it threw all it had at the young driver who displayed maturity beyond his years to earn himself another podium finish this season.
“The past week has been one of the toughest we’ve had. Especially with the problems we faced. It’s been pretty tough on the body. It’s definitely one of the toughest races I’ve had,” he said.
Malcolm Read was full of praise for EZY-Cusco driver, explaining that the mental toughness Young had displayed throughout the race was the standout feature of his overall performance.
“Not only were the driving conditions terrible but he had to overcome the power steering issues and that is physically demanding on the body. It’s quite draining and it took its toll,” he said.
Despite the seemingly wide gulf between MRF’s Skodas and the rest of the pack, EZY-Cusco can take pride in its displays on the international stage with the relatively new partnership already displaying signs of challenging to be the best of the rest.
Along with the Production Cup, Young has placed himself in poll position to finish the season with an Asia Cup win in India. Young only needs to complete all the stages in the final rally in India later this year to secure the EZY-Cusco partnership another valuable piece of silverware.