Singh survives to win in Indonesia

Karamjit Singh drove what he termed the slowest rally of his career to survive sometimes treacherously slippery conditions and take an all-the-way win in the Gudang Garam Rally Indonesia, round one of the 2000 F.I.A. Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.

Even heavy rain that made three of the stages “very scary” couldn’t upset Singh’s clean-sweep of the event that marks Indonesia’s return to international motorsport after two years of civil unrest and the secession of East Timor.

The 38-year-old Singh won each of the 12 stages (an total of 251kms of special stages) en route to taking his Group-N Proton PERT to the Medan finish line virtually unscratched – despite describing the wet stages as even more slippery than the conditions experienced in 1997’s Indonesian World Rally Championship round.
Japanese drivers were among the leading APRC contenders who stayed away from this opening round, based in the city of Medan, in northern Sumatra – their absence reducing the international content in the 29-car field to just nine overseas drivers and navigators.

The Indonesian organisers are utterly committed to regaining WRC status for their event as soon as possible and the government support for that ambition was obvious – with 100s of police and military mobilised to help rally traffic through the jammed northern Sumatran roads between stages.

Singh was complimentary about the organisation – and admitted his pre-rally fears about stage security were proven groundless. Big crowds turned out each day, but rally officials had to take action only once because of it – cancelling stage eight on the second day due to a mixture of large crowds and a very slippery road.
In fact the only shortcoming in the event was the lack of serious competition for the experienced Singh and co-driver Allen Oh and their committed Petronas-backed team.

A group of top Indonesian drivers was led by Chandra Alim, returning to rallying after several years devoted to circuit racing, Fauzy Aldjufrie and young up-and-coming drivers Aga Kartiwa, Harun Dalimunthe and Rifat Sungkar – in a variety of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, all in Group N form.

But Singh was truly in a class of how own – taking a 17 second lead on the first 23km stage on Friday afternoon and the same on the second stage.

Saturday’s stages continued in the same vein – even as heavy rain saturated the Sei Merah stage between the day’s two runs over the 23km route, slowing Singh, for instance, by 2m 13s and others by much more: By the end of the day he was 1m 42s ahead of Alim’s Evo 3, despite a problem with a front diff.
Next in order behind were Kartiwa, a 26-year-old rookie rally driver who hasn’t long made the move from motocross into an Evo 6 and Fauzy (in an Evo 4) – already spread out by more than five minutes.

Unhappily, by Saturday night the rally had lost three entries in crashes – all on the narrow, rough and heavily-trafficked touring roads..two of them by crashing head-on into each other! Rifat Sungkar – who’d been on a comeback from mechanical troubles on stage 1, with four top-four results – collided on a tight corner with Abdi Arif Harahap between stages six and seven. The drivers and navigators escaped unhurt. Steven Suhanda’s Ford Escort Cosworth had already broken an axle while touring.

Singh admitted later that he was unsure how fast to go on the muddy, slippery stages on the final morning after heavy Saturday night rain and ended up driving so slowly “I lost concentration several times.”
But everyone was driving to survive and Singh’s lead still steadily opened up – winning by 53 seconds on the 15.6km 12th stage.

At the finish line Alim was still second, almost 6 minutes ahead of Kartiwa, with Fauzy another 8m 38s behind him.

In a giant-killing role in fifth place outright and first in Formula 2 was Malaysian Gunasaleen Rajoo and his navigator Hilmi Zul Hasan in their Group N Proton Satria 1.6 MTs – a partnership that had also won Rally Indonesia’s first-ever running of a new regional championship.the F.I.A. Asian Zone Challenge.

The Challenge is for drivers from the region, behind the wheel of normally-aspirated, two-wheel-drive Group N cars of a maximum 1600cc, this bottom-of-the rung class attracting six entries – four Indonesian-branded Timor S 515is and a pair of Malaysia’s Satrias.

The Zone Challenge, which ended on Saturday night after eight of the rally’s 13 stages, saw the Malaysian team win by more than six and a half minutes, ahead of nearest rivals Dio Nasution and Indra Prasetyo in their Timor. Rajoo’s domination showed clearly, with second, third and fourth places in the Zone all within 1m 37s – with Sultan Djorghi third.

Both Malaysian winners – Singh and Rajoo – are planning to compete in the full APRC, adding to their valuable points won in Indonesia.

Britons Andrew Thomson and Alexis Harper claimed second place in F2 in their Timor, in seventh place overall (behind Dalimunthe) having posed the biggest challenge to Rajoo.

Story: Wayne Munro