Former world champion Karamjit Singh has taken out the Hella Battery Town Rally of Rotorua today.
The Malaysian, who held a 2min 18sec lead overnight, was able to cruise through today’s final six special stages to take out the Asia Pacific Rally Championship round by 1min 50sec from rival Armin Kremer (Germany) with young Auckland driver Mark Tapper third.
The Kiwi fans found plenty to cheer about when veteran Neil Allport won the Parker Enzed Rally of New Zealand championship round in his return to the series, 11 years after he last won a national rally event.
His victory came at the expense of current championship leader Andrew Hawkeswood who seemed destined to cruise home before a faulty gearbox ended his hopes in the penultimate stage.
“I’m chuffed to win. It would have been my worst nightmare if we didn’t pull it off. It’s a real shame about Andrew (Hawkeswood) and I am really sad for him. He’s worked really hard for this,’’ Allport said.
Hawkeswood’s failure has elevated Auckland Subaru driver Chris West to the top of the points in the national championship. Provisionally West leads on 87 points from Hawkeswood 69 and Richard Mason (Masterton, Subaru) 57 – who both failed to finish in Rotorua.
Provisionally Singh is now just one point behind Kremer at the top of the APRC points table after three rounds of the Asia Pacific championship, although it was a disappointment for Kiwi hope Geof Argyle. The Manawatu driver, who won the second round at New Caledonia, fell back after a series of punctures on the first day caused by a problem with their tyre changing machine. He finished sixth to drop to fourth place overall.
Singh had a scare on the first stage today, as the lead-off driver in frosty and slippery conditions in the Waiotapu region east of Rotorua. He lost 28 seconds to rival Kremer but managed to hold him at bay.
“I am very, very happy. We lost a lot of time on that first stage clearing the road for the rest,’’ Singh said.
“But overall I am happy with the result. It was very important for us to win here for the championship.’’
His main concern is a lack of sponsorship which has put in doubt his ability to complete the series, particularly the next round in Japan.
“Let’s hope this win helps us with more sponsorship. Basically we have run out of money. It’s getting tougher every year.’’
Hawkeswood was impressive in the early stages today guiding his Mitsubishi to fastest times special stages nine and 10, despite running near the back of the field along with the other New Zealand Group A cars that are no longer homologated for the FIA international event.
He held a 1min 13sec advantage overnight and extended that to 2min 15sec at the first service from Allport, before his untimely mechanical so close to victory.
However his demise provided a superb moment for the former national champion Allport, who has driven with patience and perfection especially during yesterday’s demanding stages in the Motu. He finished 1min 01min ahead of Tapper with a further 2min to Auckland’Chris West in third.
Allport says he won’t have time to celebrate as he leaves for the WRC Championship round in Argentina tomorrow, although Tapper had reason to enjoy his result.
“Happiness at last. I was fairly careful and nursed the car through on Friday,’’ Tapper said. “We lost four minutes with the gearbox and penalties and so we could say that we may have won without it.
“But on the plus side we are here and happy. It’s my best performance ever.’’
There were plenty of casualties today, mostly notably to talented Vesa Mikkola (Finland), Hawkeswood and fellow New Zealand championship hopeful Richard Mason, who restarted after crashing yesterday only to stop with a mechanical problem early on special stage 10 this morning.