Japanese tyre manufacturer Yokohama this weekend helped Japanese driver Toshi Arai to clinch the Production Cup in the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge, which features Yokohama as a tyre partner. The vastly-experienced Arai, partnered by Australian Dale Moscatt, won the Production Cup category of IRC finale, Cyprus Rally in his Yokohama-supported and shod Subaru Impreza R4.
Hot off the back of a category win on the penultimate round, Rally Scotland, Arai and Subaru were optimistic for the final round. Production Cup leader Florian Gonon was not competing in Cyprus and with double points on offer, a sensible drive would hopefully net Arai the title.
However, nothing is ever a given in Cyprus. Renowned as one of the toughest events, the rough gravel roads, the relatively low speeds and high temperatures place a huge strain on the cars, the crews and of course, the tyres.
This year, the event was running as a mixed-surface rally, meaning the competitors would be facing both gravel and tarmac surfaces. However, it would not run like events such as Rally Spain, part of the FIA World Rally Championship. In Spain, one day was on gravel with some asphalt and the remaining two days were pure tarmac, entailing a specification change to the competing cars part-way through the event.
In Cyprus, many stages featured both asphalt and gravel in the same stage and where other stages were entirely one surface, the following stage would be opposite. Additionally, the regulations stated that all cars should compete with gravel suspension and only be fitted with 15in wheels and gravel specification tyres.
Clearly, this meant that from a tyre point of view, it would be impossible for any car to be on the right tyre for the conditions all the time and a compromise would be essential. The Yokohama engineers and the Stohl Racing team, running Arai and headed by former WRC driver Manfred Stohl, opted for a combination of the new A053 gravel tyre and the A036 'Rally Racer'.
The latter is designed for combined tarmac and gravel use, featuring a tarmac/road tread pattern design but coupled to gravel tyre construction, for additional rigidity and puncture resistance.
The choice clearly worked - Arai completed the event with no punctures, no tyre or car issues and recorded a finish in seventh place overall and the leading non-S2000 car. As a result of winning the Production Cup category of the event, he becomes the 2011 Production Cup IRC champion, a fitting reward for the team and Yokohama.
Commenting after the event, Arai said; "This rally was very difficult - very rough conditions and tricky with the mixed surfaces, so I am very happy to win the Production Cup here and of course, the title. We have the new R4 car and the new Yokohama tyre this year so I am very pleased because of this also.
"The Yokohama tyres have been getting better and better this year and worked very well for us on this event. I am very happy."
Manfred Stohl said; "It was a pleasure to work with Toshi on this event - he is very professional and his experience showed this weekend - we had no problems at all, with the tyres, the car or the conditions. The team had a very positive feeling all weekend and I think this is the perfect way to finish an excellent season."
Yokohama Tyre Technician Ian Beveridge said; "We had a special version of the A036 'Rally Racer' tyre for Cyprus, specially reinforced for the rough conditions. We tended to use both the A036 and the A053 on the car at the same time, to get the right grip balance and handling and it seems to have worked perfectly.
"Toshi drove very well and we were delighted with the way the tyres held up in the conditions."
Head of Motorsport at UK distributor Yokohama HPT Ltd Mark Evans, said; "I am delighted that Toshi was able to take the Production Cup win in Cyprus and with it, the 2011 Production Cup title and on behalf of Yokohama HPT Ltd, offer him, Dale and STi our congratulations.
"It is particularly gratifying to see Yokohama tyres not only performing but doing so reliably and with no problems. Cyprus has a fearsome reputation and for these tyres to help him finish seventh out of a huge field of Super2000 cars shows that our tyres offer the ideal characteristics for rallying; grip, wear resistance, strength and consistency."