Asia Cross Country Rally 2023 returned for the first time in four years as a "summer rally" with a full schedule and a full course.
Looking back, we were surprised by the lack of rainfall in the first half of the rally, and in the second half, we were plagued by swollen rivers.
In the Thailand stage, there was no rain at all, the road surface was hard and uneven and the average speed was high, placing a heavy burden on both the machines and people.
In the Laos stage, squalls after sunset caused the river to rise, forcing the cancellation of a highlight segment that was expected to generate much drama.
If only there had been more rain on the Thai side and less rain on the Lao P.D.R. side, we would have been able to create the "Asia Cross Country Rally" that the organizers envisioned, but such is rallying. But this is another rally, and we cannot control the weather. However, it was also a rally that made us realize how difficult it is to set up a course.
Nevertheless for the contestants who had battled on the tough road surface in the extraordinary heat and dust since the first day, this rally must have been an unforgettable memory that will last a lifetime.
At the finish line of the final SS, some were in tears of joy, others hugged each other, others shook hands with their partners and others praised each other with an outpouring of emotions at the end of a long battle that had pushed them beyond their own limits.
Among them, there was a MOTO who jumped into the finish line faster than anyone else and with a huge gut-punch. You may have already guessed that it was Jakkrit Chawtale (THA) of the #17 JC DIRT SHOP Rally Team on a KTM 500 EXC-F.
Jakkrit, who competed in the M2 class with engine displacements ranging from 251cc to 700cc, took the lead on the first day and continued to widen the gap from the second day onward, never relinquishing the top overall position until the final day when he closed out the 6-day battle by setting the fastest time in the final SS as a champion. It was an impressive performance.
In the AUTOl category, a semi-works team driver with a disability and two limbs went toe-to-toe with the works teams and overcame numerous problems to come out on top! This was a surprise that no one could have predicted.
Takuma Aoki, #105 from TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA who was competing as a Fortuner in the 51.96km final SS6, which started from the overall ranking of the previous day drove without any danger and reached the finish without being overtaken by anyone.
In fact, this machine had been having a series of problems from the first day. Within 5 minutes of starting the first SS1, the front right drive shaft broke and the car went into 2WD. This problem was not completely resolved in the second half of SS1 after emergency repairs, nor in SS2 the following day and we were forced to race in 2WD for the entire 2 days.
However, the fact that the team was able to compete in the top time even with 2WD gave them a lot of confidenc. On the third day, when 4WD became usable without any problems, TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA dominated the daily top three places led by the daily top tuners Ikuo Hanawa (JPN) and Hirokazu Somemiya (JPN), and Takuma Aoki's machine took the overall lead.
Thereafter, Aoki who was running without any major breakdowns as not to damage his machine with his rivals chasing him continued to run at the top, coming in 2nd and 3rd in the Laos stage and on the final day, he completely slowed down his pace to finish the race with a solid race performance. On the final day, he completely slowed down to finish the race with a solid performance. He was crowned the first winner, the overall winner and the T1D class winner all at once.
Second place overall went to teammates #121 Tubagus Moerinsyahdi (IDN) and Jatuporn Burakitpachai (THA). Although their machine was not as heavily modified as Takuma's, the silky engine characteristics were well suited to the many stop-and-go stages of the Asia Cross Country Rally and they drove "not as fast as they look, but their times are good" to catch up with Aoki's car #105. They reached the finish at the same time.
In 3rd place overall was Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART #101 Chayapon Yotha (THA) and Peerapong Sombutwong (THA) driving the new Triton. Chayapon who won the overall championship last year despite is a 35-year-old driver who makes few mistakes and is known for his clever and effortless driving.
His style of driving the car quickly and accurately without breaking it and always returning to the finish line unscathed are qualities that are more important than anything else in the rally scene. Last year's victory was not a fluke, but a testament to his ability.
The Mitsubishi Triton rally machine which came out with a bang has been consistently fast since its first year despite minor problems and it will be interesting to see how it approaches the competition against Toyota's Hilux Revo and Isuzu's D-MAX, which are dominating the AXCR scene in terms of numbers. The focus of attention will be on how the team will approach the competition.
TCD ASIA PACIFIC INDONESIA, President Director Toshio Obara who leads the TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA team said "We have challenged this rally four times since 2017 with the Toyota Fortuner. We are developers, so we are not only focused on race results. However, we are very happy to have received such a surprise while we were all working so hard to meet the challenge. Needless to say, this result was made possible by the efforts of our excellent drivers and co-drivers, including Takuma Aoki and Tubagus, but I am also very proud of the support of the mechanics from Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan who came together to support the team. Through these activities, we will continue to convey to our customers the appeal and strength of Toyota vehicles. We look forward to your continued support."
Hiroshi Masuoka, Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART manager commented, "Although we are disappointed, I am proud that we were able to enter three cars in the race and lead them all to the finish. I think this was a great opportunity to show everyone the reliability of the new Triton. This is our second year competing in this rally and our main goal is to collect a variety of basic data for car building and to train the engineers involved in this project. We believe that these rally are very important for us in the sense that we can apply the know-how gained under such severe conditions to mass-produced vehicles and deliver them to our many customers around the world. Next year, we will further strengthen our team, refine the know-how we have gained this time, and do our best to win the championship."
After the SS, the contestants reached "Wat Phou," a World Heritage site that is the pride of Lao P.D.R., after a 50 km road section. This is where the ceremonial finish was held, and the MOTO and AUTO machines arranged in order of their final results were introduced and passed through the podium gate one by one.
During this time, not only the riders but also the mechanics and others who had been supporting the team behind the scenes gathered in front of the machines, cheering with delight, and taking "commemorative photos" over and over again. At this point, it was "no side," no friend or foe. Sharing the joy of each other and praising each other for finishing the rally, the annual festive event of the Asia Cross Country Rally continued until the evening breeze became just a little bit cooler. The festivities continued until the evening breeze cooled it down a bit.
After all the vehicles that had traveled together from all over Thailand for the rally circus arrived at the Campasak Grand Hotel in Pakse, a dinner party was held in a large hall. I will report here later the awards that were presented at the dinner party. We also have a few more things to add, so please wait a while for the finished version.
After a long and winding road, the 2023 Asia Cross Country Rally has now ended. Unfortunately, we were only able to introduce a few of the top finishers and teams in this official report, but all the participants have their own stories to tell, and each of them has their own "passionate feelings" that we are unable to fully introduce here.
Please look at the following Facebook and Instagram pages. They are filled with the various events and thoughts that colored this year's event, and they will shine like jewels in a jewel box.
Well then, everyone, it is time to say goodbye.
I am sure we will meet again next year!