While Karamjit Singh raced into a commanding lead on the opening leg of the Rally of Thailand, second-placed Nico Caldarola took a further step towards the Asia-Pacific Production Class crown.
Karamjit, who clinched the outright Asia-Pacific title at last months penultimate round in China, said he was “relaxed and having fun,” as he piloted his Group A Proton Pert to a handy 1m27sec lead over Fridays four stages.
Behind him, Caldarola was closely marked by Kenyan Alistair Cavenagh in the battle for second place and Group N production class honours on leg one, but was more interested in monitoring the performance of his championship rival, expatriate New Zealander Stuart Warren.
Fortunately for Caldarola, Warren, who needs to defeat the Italian by a handy margin on this event to claim the title, struck serious trouble on the opening stage, when he ran off the road. As well as losing time, Warren damaged his cars intercooler in the accident, and lost over 15 minutes in total.
Brake problems followed, costing Warren further time. He ended the leg in 18th overall and eighth amongst the Asia-Pacific field. As a result, Caldarola is virtually assured of securing the Production Class title so long as he completes the remaining two legs of the rally.
“My plan is still drive aggressively on leg two, but then I will take it more easily on the final day if my position is secure,” Caldarola said.
Cavenagh, for his part, put recent tragic events in his home town of Mombassa out of his mind to turn on his best driving performance of the season.
“It is terrible what has happened and I have been on the phone to people at home, but what can you do?” he says. “Todays stages have been rough in parts, which is what I am used to back home, and that has helped my performance.”
Tawatchai Pasomsup ended the opening leg in fourth place, and first of the locals.
Behind him, Englishman John Lloyd was delighted to hold down fifth place. However, he felt that the rough stages of the opening leg had suited him particularly well, and admitted that improving on his position on the smoother stages of legs two and three would be a challenge.
Warren’s Kiwi team mate Reece Jones was placed eighth overall and third in the APRC Group N field, having lost time stopping to tow his MRF Team partner back onto the road on the first stage. Jones later struggled with a centre differential problem.
Despite a puncture, Suzuki Ingnis driver Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima ended leg one in 10th, first of the two-wheel-drives, and sixth of the Asia-Pacific field.
“Todays stages have been very slippery and rough in parts, which does not suit a two-wheel-drive car like mine,” he said. “But things should improve from here.”
Frenchman Jean-Louis Leyraud was frustrated to end the day in 14th overall after going off on the same corner twice. Brian Green, the other Asia-Pacific championship competitor on this event, retired with a blown motor.