Defending champion Karamjit Singh has taken a solid win on the penultimate round of the Asia-Pacific Championship in Thailand, and so remains in contention to retain the series crown for another year.
However Geof Argyle and Armin Kremer are the key 2003 protagonists in the battle for season honours heading for next month’s season finale in India, with just two points between them at the head of the series points table.
Singh is a further nine points back, neck-and-neck with Japan’s Fumio Nutahara. However, the Malaysian driver is the only one of the quartet to have scored point on just three rounds so far, a factor which may count in his favour given that the championship rules only allow drivers to count their four best scores.
Once the points are adjusted on that basis, heading for India Singh’s effective deficit is six rather than eleven points to Argyle.
Showing his best form of the year, it was Argyle who grabbed the early lead in Thailand, ending leg one a mere second in front of Singh. An overheating problem then forced him to slow early on leg two.
While Argyle’s Kiwi team mate Andrew Hawkeswood then proceeded to take the fight to Singh – snatching the lead before a blown engine intervened – Argyle found himself fighting every inch of the way to stay ahead of Kremer.
The gap between the pair stood at just two seconds at the conclusion of leg two. Heading into the final stage it was just three seconds, and the balance finally swung in the German’s favour when Argyle lost several seconds when he locked up a brake and slid off just a few
kilometres from home.
The time lost in that incident allowed ex-European title holder Kremer – already in control in Group N – through to second place by just three seconds. However, thanks to the bonus points earned by Argyle on the first and second legs, the result sees the points gap between the pair remain unchanged at just two points.
Finishing fifth in Thailand behind team mate Katsukiho Taguchi (with Mark Stacey as co-driver), Fumio Nutahara has slipped to third in the series, nine points behind Argyle.
Even so, with a maximum of 19 points on offer for a perfect run to victory in India, the Japanese driver remains in contention for the title. So to does Singh, who is a further four points back.
Local Ralliart driver P Tawatchai was the first Thai finisher home in sixth place, a minute clear of 2WD winners Chris and Ben Atkinson.
Noberto Cangani (10th), Haruo Takakuwa (15th) and Brian Green (16th) were the other Asia-Pacific Championship drivers to finish. Green’s was a particularly gutsy effort, as the New Zealander’s Lancer Evo 6 suffered extensive damage when it was hit from behind by a fellow competitor after an off-road excursion.
The event was also notable for the appearance of four of China’s top rally drivers, headed by Hong Kong-based Chan Chi Wah. Lancer Evo 5-mounted Hua Qing Xian was the best of them at the end, finishing 13th.
The Indian finale, included in the series for the first time this year, is scheduled to run from 5-7 December.
RALLY OF THAILAND, 31 October – 2 November
1* Karamjit Singh/Allen Oh Proton Pert A 2h07m57s
2* Armin Kremer/Fred Berssen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo N 2h08m52s
3* Geof Argyle/Steve Smith Mitsubishi Lancer Evo A 2h08m55s
4 Katsuhiko Taguchi/Mark Stacey Mitsubishi Lancer Evo N 2h09m13s
5* Fumio Nutahara/Satoshi Hayashi Mitsubishi Lancer Evo N 2h09m41s
6 P Tawatchai/S Wongsakorn Mitubishi Lancer Evo N 2h13m09s
7* Chris + Benjamin Atkinson Suzuki Ignis S1600 2h14m09s
10* Noberto Cangani/ Mitsubishi Lancer Evo N 2h16m00s
15* Haruo Takakuwa/Paul Flintoft Subaru Impreza N 2h29m23s
16* Brian Green/Fleur Pedersen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo A 2hm32m46s
33 starters. 21 finishers. 9 APRC contenders (*) finished.
Rally leaders Hawkswood stage 1, Argyle 2, Hakweswood 3, Argyle 4, Singh 5, Hawkeswood 6-7, Singh 8-17.
APRC points: Argyle 45, Kremer 43, Nutahara 37, Singh 34.
Story by David Thomson
Photo courtesy Mitsubishi Motorsport