Rally of Japan: Singh leads, but Atkinson the Sensation

Karamjit Singh from Malaysia, driving a Production class Proton Pert leads the 2004 Asia Pacific Rally Championship field after the first day of competition at Rally of Japan – an event also part of the World Rally Championship. Running in hot and dusty conditions and cheered on by thousands of enthusiastic spectators the APRC and WRC drivers tackled 10 stages and 124km of special stages north of the Hokkaido city of Obhiro.

After an initial scare Singh is 28 seconds in front of rival Katsuhiko Taguchi in a Mitsubishi. Singh commented at the end of the day, “we nearly went off the road on the 3rd corner of the first stage of the day, so we calmed down after that and had a good day”.

Japanese driver Taguchi is happy to be 2nd and doing well in front of a huge home crowd and third place is held by the sensation of the event so far – Chris Atkinson in his Super 1600 Suzuki. Atkinson led the APRC race for part of the day after setting a sensational 8th fastest time (the only cars to go faster were WRC cars) on SS13 and then held that lead until SS18, when he got a puncture and dropped 30 seconds to his competitors.

Current APRC points leader Armin Kremer set the pace on the 1st stage, but then lost 2nd gear – a handicap he had to run with for the rest of the day until his crew could change his gearbox at the evening service break ” the first stage was really good for us and after this we had some problems with the gearbox and we lost 2nd gear. It was a long day,, but we are still here. Tomorrow is a new day and we will go for bonus points in the Asia Pacific Championship’.

New Caledonia winner New Zealander Geoff Argyle is 5th after making a wrong choice of tyres ‘ we got caught out as the roads are quite different from last year, the weather is much drier and hotter and we went for too softer tyre. On the 2nd run through the stages we were on the pace again’. Argyle was impressed by the number of people watching the rally ‘in one town thousands of people were lining the road – they even had commentary on the cars as we went through’.

Italian Nico Caldarola is in 6th place, “the car is going well and I’m happy” he said at the last service. Caldarola is followed by Vesa Mikkola in a Suzuki, Brian Green in a Mitsubishi and Dermott Malley also in Mitsubishi.

The final leg is 120km long, with one stage Penke of 29kms – a test that saw many of the competitors crash out in the 2003 event. The finish podium is back at the Kita Aikoku service park near Obhiro.