While Group A Proton driver Karamjit Singh consolidated his China Rally lead over today’s rain-soaked second leg, New Zealand drivers Stu Warren and Reece Jones piled on the pressure in a bid to topple second-placed Nico Caldarola from his position at the head of the Group N Asia-Pacific Rally Championship field.
The Italian Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 driver started leg two as he had ended leg one -setting fastest Group N time on two stages – but that was before the weather took a turn for the worse. Then, unsettled by the damp conditions, which presented the difficult combination of a slippery road surface over a hard base, he struggled to maintain his pace.
“Incredible, incredible,” Caldarola declared as the rain poured down. “Last year we had a 40 degree temperature and sunshine. Now we have this.”
By contrast, his antipodean rivals revealed in the conditions.
MRF Lancer Evo 7 driver Warren, who started the leg in third place, 1m26secs behind his championship rival, chipped away at the deficit, overcoming a couple of half-spins to narrow the margin to just under a minute at the close of play for the day.
Recovering from time lost when he punctured on the opening leg, fellow Lancer Evo 7 pilot Jones turned on a stunning performance, bagging the quickest overall time for the leg. Much of Jones’ ground was gained in the course of the last two stages, when the risky decision to select a soft compound Falken mud tyre played dividends in the form of back-to-back stage wins, each by a handsome margin.
Jones ended the leg in fourth place overall, just over a minute behind Warren, and fired up to attack on the rally’s final leg. Warren too was keen to charge at the start of the last leg, both in a bid to stay ahead of Jones, and to apply pressure on Caldarola.
That leaves Karamajit Singh, who will wrap up this year’s Asia-Pacific title if he can win the Shaoguan-based event, as the only top driver free to take what he describes as a “Sunday afternoon drive approach” to leg three.
Unhappy with his own ability to adapt to the damp roads, Group A Lancer Evo 6 driver John Lloyd slipped from fourth to fifth. The Englishman ended the leg several minutes behind Jones, but well ahead of his nearest rival.
Following the demise of Italy’s Noberto Cangani with engine failure on the day’s second stage, that rival was Chinese hard-charger Hua Qingxian. Driving a Group N Lancer Evo 6, Qingxian was happy with his own performance over the leg, but slipped back late in the day with an engine fault.
Mechanical problems also slowed last year’s China Rally third place getter, Chan Chi Wah (Subaru Impreza WRX). He was overtaken in the race for seventh place by team mate and heir-apparent to Chinese Group N crown, Wen Fan (Lancer Evo 6).
Two further Chinese drivers – Ren Zhigao and Cai Ming – completed the top ten overall. The rally concludes with six special stages to the west of Shaoguan, totalling some 68 competitive kilometres.