Czech Republic driver, Jan Kopecky, has won a rain-shortened Rally of New Caledonia, round two of the 2014 Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, after quickly coming to grips with the event on his first visit.
His Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000 team-mate, Gaurav Gill, finished in second place after an altercation with a tree on the first day dropped him from the lead.
Kopecky and co-driver, Pavel Dresler, the reigining European Rally Champions, eventually finished the rally six minutes and 12 seconds clear of the Indian/Australian combination of Gill and Glenn Macneall. The two pairings are now equal on points after two rounds of the championship.
“There was no pressure (on the second day) and I was relaxed in the car,” Kopecky said. “There was one stage in the north I enjoyed and each time I was able to go quicker than Gaurav, so it was good for us.”
“We are now on equal points with Gaurav, and that’s good for the championship. If you have a close battle from the start it’s always better. Next is Australia… I’ve never been there, so a new country, a new rally and we are looking forward to it.”
Despite his problems in New Caledonia, Gill is confident that he can bounce back in Australia and take his second victory of the season.
“We had a good lead and a healthy margin, but unfortunately we got caught out by the conditions yesterday, and found a tree on the exit of a corner,” Gill said.
“It wasn’t so good for the car and we bent a suspension arm. Glenn and I had to do some repairs and we drove the last stage very conservatively.’
Gill was fastest on day two, giving him as many championship points as he could have hoped for after day one. “We’re happy to finish ….. it’s the best I could have done,” he said.
Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, said that the conditions were challenging, to say the least. “When there are stages being cancelled because of the weather you know that just getting to the finish is going to be difficult,” Heenan said.
“On some sections the conditions were treacherous, so to get both cars to the finish and on the podium is a great result for us. Jan did a brilliant job on his first trip to New Caledonia, and the win will give him even more confidence heading to the Rally of Queensland next month.
“Gaurav looked to be on track for another win, but the conditions caught him out on the first day and he dropped time after hitting a tree.
“He recovered well, though, and second place has kept him right in the championship running,” he said.
Third of the APRC registered drivers to finish was New Zealand’s Mike Young, who took the lead in both the APRC’s two-wheel drive and Production Car championship after Australians Mark Pedder and Tom Wilde had off-road excursions.
However, there were aspects of the event that didn’t please Heenan, including when both his drivers were initially penalised for not starting one of the stages as per the event itinerary.
“One stage was meant to be used six times, but was cancelled on three ocassions because of the conditions,” Heenan said.
“When our cars arrived there for SS13 they were convinced it would again be cancelled. They asked the conditions of the stage and handed their time card to the control official. They were not given a start time on their card and the stage was delayed.
“The Clerk of the Course penalised both cars for delaying the start and gave us a 33 minute penalty. That relegated Jan to second and Gaurav to third, but after a trip to the Steward’s meeting the penalty was changed and we were reinstated into first and second places.”
After the cancellation of so many stages, Heenan believes that there are now question marks over whether the event should remain in the APRC.
“Over the past years in New Caledonia there have been many stages cancelled, to the point we struggle to get 50% of the rally complete.
“I think it’s about time we gave another event a chance in the championship,” he added.
The next rally on the APRC calendar is the third round of the season, and the final Pacific Cup event, the International Rally of Queensland in Australia.