As expected Malaysian driver Karamjit Singh is the 2001 Asia Pacific Rally Champion taking the overall title with 2nd place in the Rally of Thailand, held near Pattaya.
Having already secured the APRC Group N title with a similar finish in China, Singh came to Thailand needing just 3 points to secure the overall championship title from arch rival Italian Nico Caldarola. By the end of leg 2 the championship was decided and Singh and the EON Motorsports team could celebrate “I’m very happy to win and very relieved – now I can relax and have some fun in tomorrows final leg”. Singh’s approach all through the championship has been totally focused on gaining points in every round – if that meant coming second to Caldarola it didn’t matter.
“My notes are safety notes – I only go as fast as I have to” said Singh “although I was disappointed to lose out to Nico in China by only 2.5 seconds. I really tried to win there”. Singh did win in Malaysia – his first win in his home event – after 13 years of trying. Allen Oh, co-driver for Singh won the co-drivers title, just reward for many years being ‘the force’ behind Singh. “Allen’s been like a father to me – I owe so much to him’ said Singh after his Malaysia win.
For Italian Nico Caldarola the season has ended on a high note with two consecutive wins in China and Thailand. Very different from earlier in the season – two crashes in two events. “After my second crash in Rotorua I nearly decided to stop – but thankfully I didn’t – winning the last two events is fantastic for me and the Top Run team “. Caldarola’s win in China is particularly special – his first international win and memorable for the fight on the final day that went to the very last stage.
Other drivers to complete and qualify for the championship include Englishman John Lloyd who started the season very cautiously but by China and Thailand had adopted a much more aggressive approach. Lloyd’s high came with 4th place overall in Malaysia and he ran in 3rd position in China until steering problems dropped him down the order to 5th. Lloyds team-mate for part of the season was kiwi Brian Green having his first experience of rallying in Asia and a best place of 4th overall in China. Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima ran a Suzuki Ignis in the Super 1600 class and a first in class in China and several leg finishes were enough to secure him the Super 1600 title.
This year’s championship had five different drivers win an event outright, although apart from Singh and Caldarola, none qualified for points due to not competing in both a Pacific and Asian round. Jean-Louis Leyraud proved local knowledge and experience was what was need over the fast but tricky New Caledonian roads, New Zealander Bruce Herbert won the Rotorua round that saw the return of the famous Motu stage and last year’s champion Possum Bourne easily won the Canberra round.
Singh’s team-mate Jimmy Low competed in two rounds and set many fastest times, Chinese driver Chan Chi Wah proved he could foot it with the APRC regulars with 3rd in China, and after 3rd place overall in Canberra lets hope Australian Cody Crocker gets to do more rounds next year.
As the teams left the final round in Thailand talk was already about 2002. The inclusion of a round in Hokkaido Japan will be a huge bonus to the championship and already there is evidence of interest from Japanese teams.
Karamjit Singh is confirmed to defend his APRC title in a Group A car Proton, Possum Bourne in a WRC Subaru a possible returnee, plus rumours abound over the possible appearance of a WRC Ford Focus. Nico Caldarola may appear with a Top Run team-mate (driver unknown) and a three car team run by Neil Allport Motorsport for John Lloyd, Brian Green, and Kenyan Alistair Caven who was on the pace in Thailand is likely.
One major change to the regulations for the 2002 championship is the requirement for drivers and teams to register for the championship – this must be done by the 2nd round in New Caledonia. In addition to qualify for overall points two rounds in the Pacific and two rounds in Asia must be started.