Karamjit Singh dominates Rally Thailand

After only just making the start due to the late arrival of his car Karamjit Singh took a flag to flag victory in the opening round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, the 11th Rally of Thailand. Leading APRC seed Yoshihiro Kataoka finished 2nd after a rally of many problems including a high speed roll. He admitted afterwards, “I am very pleased to finish second, this rally has been very difficult for me”. Group N was won by Katsuhiko Taguchi after a trouble free run “I am very pleased to have no damage to my car” he proudly stated. Almost every car in the top ten showed some panel damage.

Karamjit started leg one with apprehension, his engine was very tired and had not been re-built from last years championship, however this did not stop him from setting top times early on.”I am very worried about my engine, I will be happy to finish, we have only just got the car back from England” he said.

Kataoka’s problems started on SS2 with two punctures costing him 3 mins to Karamjit. Karamjit also punctured on SS2 and had to drive SS3 on the punctured tyre. SS2 was very rough and many drivers complained of problems with tyres. Taguchi finished leg 1, 2nd overall and 1st equal in group N with Yamaguchi.

Leg 2 started by running the same stages as leg1 and of course the same problems with punctures. Karamjit was suffering serious gearbox problems and only had 3rd gear from SS3 to the end of the leg when his crew could change the troublesome unit. This however did not stop him from opening up a lead of 2 mins over group N leader Taguchi. Yamaguchi had given up his battle with Taguchi saying “Taguchi is too quick for me, I want to finish the rally”. Kataoka punctured again on SS9 and lost more time dropping him to 7th. He began his climb back into contention only to loose more time with a high speed roll on SS16. He slid wide on a corner and hit a tree on the drivers door and rolled. Fortunately the car only suffered body damage but he lost 1mim30 sec in the incident. Unable to service before the next stage he still was able to set fastest time on SS17!

‘Monster’ Tajima was enjoying a large lead in F2 only to be slowed by an off due to not having 2nd gear. Luckily only suffering panel damage to his new, female, co-drivers side of the car. Sadly his rally came to a halt on SS19 when the gearbox refused to go any further.

The final leg was run over a complex of four stages to the south of Chiang Mai, each stage run several times to give a total of nine. in all. Karamjit settled into a steady pace to hold his 1st place and make sure his fragile engine got him home. Kataoka was determined to improve his overnight position of 4th to at least 2nd by winning eight of the legs nine stages. “I cannot win the rally” he admitted ” but 2nd will give me good points for the championship”. Kataoka’s late charge pushed group N winner Taguchi into 3rd and Yamaguchi into 4th place. Thai driver Pronsawan Siriwattanakul lived up to his top local seeding by finishing 1st Thai and 5th overall. Japanese driver and Kataoka’s team mate Fumio Nutahara finished 3rd in group N and 6th overall. After ‘Monster’s’ exit F2 was won by little known Thai driver Vitoon Visuttipol.

This was the first time the rally had been based in the tourist town of Chiang Mai, it was previously run further south around Phare. The stages were very compact and much slower than the roads in Phare. A greater control over timing and crowd control all reflected the influence of Simo Lampinen. Simo was invited to chair the organising committee as the result of his involvement in the rally as and FIA observer.