Rally of Malaysia in 2001 saw the event moved to a new home – the historic city of Melaka. A series of stages not too far from the city were used in different combinations and with the weather throwing tropical rain at the roads, the scene was set for a great test of endurance, patience and the right pace.
Karamjit Singh had to be the favourite for an outright win being on home-ground, but after the first leg held in treacherously slippery conditions he found himself 1.20 seconds behind his team-mate Jimmy Low, after making the wrong tyre choice.
“It was completely my fault”, admitted Singh and even though Low checked out of the final service park late to give Singh back his lead the organisers did not receive the late check-out in time and seeded Low first on the road for the 2nd leg. Italian driver Nico Caldarola was third in his Mitsubishi ahead of the nimble Super 1600 Suzuki Ignis driven by Japanese driver Monster Tajoima and in 5th was UK’s John Lloyd in a Mitsubishi. New Zealand’s Brian Green was the only casualty of the day sliding off in the muddy conditions, but would resume the next day under the Super Rally rules.
Day two was brighter but conditions still called for mud tyres. Taking no chances on time penalties Singh put the hammer-down and was soon galloping away in his Proton Pert. At the end of the day he held a three-minute lead over team-mate Low. Third-paced Caldarola had settled into a consistent pace but was hampered by a mis-firing engine that the Top Run crew could find no reason for, other than possible bad fuel. After a great run Tajima Suzuki suffered a problem with an engine sensor that forced his retirement from a good 4th place allowing Lloyd to move up.
Lloyd was lucky to be there after a rare off nearly finished his event, but luckily team-mate Green was able to tow the Englishmen back on the road. A good run from local Gunasaleen Rajoo in his Proton Satria had him in 5th place although looking shakey with gearbox problems forcing him to drive for a finish. The most spectacular driver of the day had to be local hot-shot Rozali Abdullah in the EON Motorsport Proton Wira 1.8 – an Asian driver to watch.
The crews left Melaka before dawn on Day 3, but the sun was definitely rising as the cars started the first of six stages for the final day. There were no major dramas or changes in position, other than the final stage being cancelled for safety reasons – and so Singh and co-driver Allen Oh headed back to Melaka to celebrate their first win on their home event.
“After 13 years of trying and several times leading, but always ending up 2nd or worse – we finally did it”. The prize giving ceremony held later that night was all Karamjit’s as he showed everyone how to celebrate, entertaining the crowd with a great Indian Karoke number and then blasting everyone with his favorite music – ‘Smoke on the water’ and other 70’s rock!
The day after the Rally of Malaysia finished, Singh’s EON Motorsports team took delivery of their new Group A car. However they will compete in Octobers Rally of China with the Group N Proton as it is still mathematically possible for Caldarola to take the Group N championship.