Leave him alone with a bunch of strangers and you can be sure that Katsuhiko Taguchi would have struck an interesting conversation with them, and befriended them in quick time. That's the kind of person the 38-year-old Japanese is: affable, honest, kind, harmless and one full of mirth. “He is so full of fun,” said his co-driver Chris Murphy, on Sunday.

When Indian journalists quizzed him about so many things, he answered them fluently without major hiccups and with a measure of comfort.

The newly-crowned Asia Pacific Rally Champion said his second title here didn't give as much happiness as the first which he won in 1999. “That was really great when I beat Group A cars driving for Group N cars. This time, the way we won (not finishing the first leg and not participating in second) is not something I can cherish. That victory feeling is missing. We made some mistakes in the China Rally but I am sure we'll learn from them,” he said. “But this season, I had more consistency and I feel I am at my best.”

In fact, Taguchi and Gill's absence gave an opportunity to Alister McRae and Bill Hayes of Proton R3 Malaysia to clinch the APRC China Rally in a time of 03:16:43.4. His father Seiichiro Taguchi didn't like his son taking to racing.

“Because I was crazy and very naughty. But seeing my interest, my father had no choice.”

Debut in 1994

Taguchi's love for motorsport was so intense that his father began to understand that his son would make it big in rallying eventually. “I love rallying more than everything else. It's my life. I can't be without it.”

Making his debut in Group N Mitsubishi Lancer in the Rally of New Zealand in 1994, Taguchi has gone on to become a well-rounded driver. With his vast experience, Taguchi has acquired an excellent hold of the car, said Lane Heenan, Team MRF Director. His association with MRF began in 2002-03 and has continued since.

“It has been a successful partnership and Taguchi is enjoying every bit of his time with the tyre giant. They are the best in the business. It's been a mutually beneficial journey. I hope it continues,” he said. Taguchi had words of praise for team-mate Gaurav Gill, who finished overall second. “He is getting better as a driver. He's aggressive, has got good eyesight, excellent car control.”

In 2008, Jussi Valimaki, APRC champion, said he could become a world class driver. On how long he'll continue to drive competitively, Taguchi said, “it all depends on MRF.” And in a lighter vein he continued, “My father is 62 years old and is still driving. In fact, he drove the APRC Japan Rally this year and finished seventh. So I think I can continue that long.”

A supremely fit and eager Taguchi will continue to be a threat for Gill and Co.

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