Outright victory came as the icing on the cake for Nico Caldarola on the Rally of Thailand, allowing the Italian to wrap up his Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) Production Class title in style.
Secure in second place and cruising to Sunday’s finish, the Top Run Racing Team Mitsubishi driver was handed the win on a plate when rally-long leader Karamjit Singh was forced to stop on the penultimate stage when his Proton Pert suffered a sudden loss of oil pressure.
“This is a fantastic feeling,” said Caldarola who, in winning the APRC Group N title, scored the biggest success in his 20-year rallying career. “To win the rally as well makes it a complete result.”
Karamjit”s engine problem was probably a consequence of a heavy landing off a jump on the day”s second special stage, which ripped the Proton”s sump guard off, damaged the turbo intercooler, and broke the power steering.
The same jump spelt the end of the rally for 2-litre Cup leader Nobuhiro Tajima, who started the day in seventh place overall. The Japanese driver landed heavily, hurting his back, and smashing the front suspension of his Suzuki Ignis Super 1600. He left the stage in an ambulance as a precautionary measure, but was able to return to the team”s hotel after treatment.
A couple of kilometres further on Stuart Warren, Caldarola”s only remaining rival in the Asia Pacific Production Class title fight, rolled his Mitsubishi Lancer. Amazingly, his fellow New Zealander and MRF Team running mate Reece Jones did exactly the same thing on the same stage. Unlike Tajima, though, both drivers were able to continue.
Together with Caldarola, Englishman John Lloyd was one of the few APRC contenders keeping his composure over the final stages. He continued to score an excellent second-place overall, and beat the rally winner to the honour of being the fastest driver over the final leg by six seconds.
“It has been an awful season for me up until now, but it is great to end it on a high like this,” he admitted. “The car hasn”t missed a beat, and I am really happy with the way I have driven.”
Third place was claimed by Thai Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Sakchai Hantrakul, who prospered as those around him struck trouble, even managing to win a stage on the final leg outright.
Jones finished fifth despite his roll, with team mate Warren two places behind in seventh. Placed eighth overall at the finish, Frenchman Jean-Louis Leyraud was the only other APRC-registered driver to complete the three day event, which was the sixth and final event of the 2002 series.
Already confirmed as the overall APRC champion for the year, Karamjit ended the series with a 22 point lead over Caladrola. Karamjit”s demise also allowed Mitsubishi to secure the APRC manufacturer”s award by a narrow margin.
Caldarola claimed the Production Class award by 20 points from Warren, while Tajima and Suzuki were confirmed as winners in the 2-litre Cup.
Rally of Thailand- Final Overall (Provisional)
1. Nico Caldarola (Italy) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7, 2h38m00s
2. John Lloyd (UK) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, +3m19s
3. Sakchai Hantrakul (Thailand) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 5, +1m04s
4. Reece Jones (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6, +4m59s
5. Vorapot Bunchuaylua (Thailand) Honda Civic, +9m49s
6. Stuart Warren (NZ) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7, +6m17s
7. Vichien Valailak (Thailand) Honda Civic, +29s
8. Jean-Louis Leyraud (France) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, +38s
9. Atsushi Kitano (Japan) Honda Civic, +1m55s
10. Chattham Promnok (Thailand) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, +3m20s
Asia-Pacfic Rally Championship Final Standings (Provisional)
APRC Overall Standings
1 Karamjit Singh 70pts
2 Nico Caldarola 48pts
3= Stuart Warren & Reece Jones 25pts
5 John Lloyd 13pts
6 Jean-Louis Leyraud 9pts
APRC Group N
1 Nico Caldarola 77pts
2 Stuart Warren 57pts
3 Reece Jones 40pts
5 Jean-Louis Leyraud 16pts
1 Mitsubishi 69pts
2 Proton 70pts
1 Allen Oh 64pts
2 Giovanni Agnese 48pts
3= Darryl Judd & Jeff Judd 25pts
5 Pauline Gullick 13pts
6 Jan McKay 8pts
1 Nobuhiro Tajima 40pts