New Zealander Geof Argyle drove a well judged event to win the APRC Rally of New Caledonia. Driving a Mitsubsihi Lancer Evo 8, Argyle took the lead on the 10th stage, after initial pace-setters Armin Kremer and Malaysian Kramjit Singh had problems. Singh retired his Proton Pert with an engine failure, while Kremer recovered to finish 2nd in his Mitsubishi and take the Asia Pacific Rally Championship points lead.
The New Caledonian event is the second round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship and for the first time the events first leg was held 220 km north of Noumea in the mountain roads near the township of Poya. The second and final day was back to the familiar ‘red-roads’ in the Nickel mining area south of Noumea. This year’s event was 223 kilometers of special stages and held in mostly fine and hot weather.
Geof Argyle came to New Caledonia knowing that a good result was essential for his championship hopes after retiring early from the first round in Canberra. “We need to get points here and more miles in the car”, said Argyle prior to the start. An intercom problem on the first two stages of the first day meant that his hopes of challenging for the outright lead suffered an early blow, but when the event returned for the overnight halt in Noumea Argyle had climbed to 3rd place and put himself firmly in contention for a podium finish.
Fastest on day one was German Armin Kremer, enjoying the fast mountain roads in his MRF sponsored Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. However Kremer was the first to have problems on the second day – dropping time on the first set of stages with front drive-shaft failure. More time was lost at service as his team had to replace the drive-shafts and differential, the final deficit dropping Kremer to 3rd overall. Howver with Singh’s demise in stage 10, the two Mitsubishi’s moved into 1st and 2nd overall with two stages to go – Argyle now leading with Kremer 20-seconds behind.
Kremer pushed hard on the penultimate stage and got the deficit down to 6 seconds and looked like he might get the lead back on the final 25 kilometer stage. Argyle on the other hand had reckoned on a safer approach for the final stages – a plan that paid off as the fast charging Kremer suffered a time consuming puncture 10 kilometres from the end of the event. “It wasn’t our lucky day today, we got a puncture and lost 2 minutes”, said Kremer at the final finish control.
The final time difference between the two Mitsubishi contenders was 42 seconds and Argyle was ecstatic to get a win as well as get 13 APRC points and said at the finish, “We got off to a difficult start, but the team worked really hard to get the car right and once we found the right combination of Silverstone tyres we set some good times – watch out in the next event Rally of Rotorua”.
In third place and only ten seconds behind Kremer was young Chris Atkinson in his Suzuki Ignis Super 1600, ‘that’s our best Asia Pacific result to date and great for Suzuki, that we beat many faster 4WD drive cars’, said Atkinson at the podium finish. Suzuki’s result was made even more complete with Atkinsons team mate Finish driver Vesa Mikkola getting his Ignis home in 4th overall.
Brian Green finishing 5th place in his Mitsubishi Lancer 8 after a couple of off-road excursions, but at least he finished unlike many of the other APRC contenders. First to go was Italian Nico Caldarola 5 kilometres into Stage 1, off the road on a fast section and damaging the front suspension.
Next to depart was Kremer’s team-mate Katsuhiko Taguchi crashing off on the 4th stage and retiring. The MRF Mitsubishi team repaired the slight damage and Taguchi was able to re-start the 2nd day under the super-rally rules and take 3 value points by finishing fastest of the APRC entrants for the day.
Noberto Cangani was headed for a good result after day 1, but on a spectacular river crossing his car injested water into the engine and retired early in day 2.
Rally New Caledonia 2004
1. ARGYLE_Geof – SMITH_Steve, LANCER EVO 8, 2:25:49
2. KREMER_Armir – GOTTSCHALK_Timo, LANCER EVO 8, +0:00:42
3. ATKINSON_Christopher – ATKINSON_Benjamin, SUZUKI IGNIS SUPER 1600, 0:02:02
4. MIKKOLA_Vesa – NIUKKANEN_Risto, SUZUKI IGNIS SUPER 1600, 0:11:22
5. BRIAN_Green – PEDERSEN_Fleur, LANCER EVO 8, 0:12:15
APRC Points after Round 2
Driver Nation Points
Armin Kremer GER 20
Karamjit Singh MAS 18
Geof Argyle NZL 14
Chris Atkinson AUS 13
Katsuhiko Taguchi JPN 11
Vesa Mikkola FIN 5
Brian Green NZL 4
Nico Caldarola ITA 1
The next event for the Asia Pacific Rally Championship is the Rally of Rotorua, home of the mighty Motu road and this year to be run as one long stage of 44 kilometres.