The 5th round of the 2010 Asia Pacific Rally Championship starts tonight in Noumea, New Caledonia. This is the APRC’s only visit to a Pacific Island and one of the few international rallies in the world held in a tropical paradise setting.
While the setting maybe idyllic the New Caledonian event poses some interesting challenges. So far the weather has been very warm (25C), clear skies and very little wind. A nice change after the winter rain in the New Zealand and Queensland events, but dust may become an issue.
The majority of the rally will be held in the South and many of stages are in low sheltered basins where there is not a lot of wind. There are plenty of hazards including a number large water crossings and some vicious dry creek beds. Along many parts of the roads there are huge drains that are metres deep and several metres wide – beware the competitor that puts his car into one these!
Many of the main teams have opted to miss New Caledonia as its impossible to get containers from here to the next round in Indonesia on time, therefore it is an opportunity for the smaller privateer teams to do well.
The main APRC entrant in New Caledonia is Indonesian Rifat Sungkar. The Pertamina driver has the Reece Jones Motorsport prepared Mitsubishi Evo 9 he used in New Zealand and Australia, but Sungkar will not have the APRC points all to his own as four local wildcards have APRC status including Alexis Barbou, Alain Dalstein, Steeve Octobon and Stephane Lechanteur-Socci.
Going for an overall win and Pacific Cup points will be local man Jean-Louis Leyraud in a Subaru Impreza. Australian Brendan Reeves is the leading Pacific Cup contender entered on 33 points and New Zealander Brian Green next with 15 points. Leyraud after two DNFs in New Zealand and Australia has 5 points.
All three Pacific Cup competitors are going to have to finish and to win Reeves must score more than 6 points here, otherwise the Cup could be lifted by the current joint leaders Hayden Paddon (NZ) and Glen Raymond(AUS) both on 39 points.
While neither Paddon and Raymond are competing here, finishing in New Caledonia has been an issue in the past – last year there were no official APRC finishers!!
Later today (Thursday) is the official start ceremony in downtown Noumea, shakedown and 4 shorts stages near Noumea on Friday, with the main event Saturday and Sunday, 224 kilometres of stage mileage. The finish is back in Noumea at 3.00pm.