New Caledonia Day 2

After yesterday’s rain, the tropical sun returned – bringing with it heat, dust and mosquitoes! For the drivers in Rally of New Caledonia, two vastly different stages made up Day 2 – “Boghen,” a fast uphill climb, dash across a Tablelands, then a steep, twisty descent – run three times. Then “Lebris,” near the coast: Flat with many crests and dips and – for the faster cars – speeds of up to 190km/h – run twice. Due to the days of heavy rain, the infamous (tight and twisty) mountain stage, “Katrikoin,” was cancelled.

Brian Green passes Eugene Creugnet after his roll The question for the day was whether young Malaysian Saladin Mazlin in his WRC Hyundai Accent, could catch his experienced countryman Karamjit Singh in his Proton PERT – registered Group A, but only mildly modified from its Group N form. The answer at the end of the day is that, while Karamjit was beaten on the odd stage he is still king – consistently quick, even though he’s having his troubles: Four punctures so far on this event. Saladin tried hard and his spectacularly aggressive style has won him many fans – but an off on the second run through Lebris leaves him 4m 06s behind Singh.

“I went off near the end of the stage in some water – it took a while to get back on and then we had to get spectators to bump-start us, but otherwise I’m happy and the car is fantastic.” Saladin’s off has promoted Italian driver Caldarola into 2nd overall and Group N leader – the difference between the two being 11 seconds. Alastair Cavenagh is 4th and 2nd in Group N and having a trouble free run though “not too happy with my speed today: We were having a good battle with Reece Jones but now he’s out with a blown head gasket, so tomorrow we’ll be happy to keep our position,” said Cavenagh after the main stages of the day. Stu Warren continues his good run, although he’d had never recced today’s (or tomorrow’s) stages due to his late entry and late arrival. Sean Gray is 6th overall, enjoying his first taste of international rallying and first local is Gael Lecerf in an Audi. Brian Green is 8th overall and happy with his position: “We’re 3rd in APRC Group A, so we’re going for a finish.”

Nico Caldarola leads Group N Major casualties of the day include NZer Reece Jones (head gasket), Nobuhiro Tajima (driveshaft) and local Eugene Creugnet who rolled on the first stage of the day, but kept his Subaru in the event. Today also saw the return of local star Jean-Louis Leyraud – back to salvage some APRC points: “We’re out of the event, but by coming second for the day we score 2 bonus points.” Tomorrow the cars head south into the red-earth zone southeast of Noumea and then to the finish on the beachfront in Noumea.