Rally New Caledonia is the 5th round of the 2010 Asia Pacific Rally Championship and being held on a Pacific island governed by France it has a character all of its own. It maybe an island paradise but the event is no holiday with 230 kilometres of rough, dusty tracks that have a ‘ball-bearing’ gravel surface making them very slippery.
Unfortunately the event was not well supported by the main teams and the only fully registered APRC driver was Rifat Sungkar. The Indonesian was not going to have it all his own way as there were four local wildcards entered including the very quick Alexis Barbou. The other battle would come from the three entrants in the Pacific Cup with local man Jean-Louis Leyraud, New Zealander Brian Green and the young rising star from Australia Brendan Reeves.
The first stage, a short blast around the coastline near Noumea was won by Sungkar in his Pertamina Mitsubishi, with 2 Reeves seconds further back. On the 3.2 kilometre superspecial in front of a crowd of enthusastic locals Reeves and Sungkar scored equal fastest times. Sungkar won again by 2 seconds on the repeat run around the coast, while Reeves pulled a few seconds back on the superspecial, so that after 11 kilometres of rallying on the first day, Sungkar lead by 3 seconds with Reeves 2nd. Leyraud in his Subaru was 11 seconds further back, with Green fourth.
The real event began the next day (saturday) with 3 stages in the south, run three times then reversed for the Sunday tests. Reeves absolutely blitzed the field on the first run through the 25 kilometre Calmines stage a full 40 seconds faster than Leyraud and 49 seconds quicker than Sungkar. The Auzzie hotshot then won the next test by 10 seconds, but a slight over-shoot on SS7 allowed Leyraud to claw back that 10 seconds. However Reeves won almost all the remaining stages through the day and was able to dictate the pace, gradually opening up a gap of 2 minutes and 6 seconds by the end of the official day 1. Sungkar was 2nd overall but easily leading the APRC section, 2 minutes and 30 seconds in front of his main rival Barbou who had suffered engine problems mid-way through the day.
Brian Green was 4th overall and 2nd in the Pacific Cup class, but lucky to have survived after flying off the road backwards smashing off the rear bumper and giving his service crew some panel-beating to do back at service. Leyraud retired in Stage 10 with a strange electrical fault that at first looked like no fuel, but turned out to be a problem in the fuel pump. Steeve Octobon was another retirement crashing off on a corner, that Sungkar had in his pace-notes “3 left over crest – deceptive!!”. The same corner claimed local driver Eric Riandet. Alain Dalstein was 5th and Stephane Lechanteur-Socci 6th.
During the Sunday morning drive out to the stages, 60 kilometre south of Noumea the clouds darkened and it started to rain. Thankfully it didn’t last long and by the end of the first stage, the dust had returned. Reeves gave himself a scare on the first stage of the morning the 8 kilometre Tabou, a mid-stage jump was way bigger than expected and the Subaru came down heavily on its nose. The same jump caught out a restarting Leyraud too, but he too survived while local pilot José Bouvier totaled his Citroen after an end for end roll after the jump.
Alexis Barbou’s challenge for an outright APRC win came to an end on Stage 15 with electrical failure in his Mitsubishi, lucky for Sungkar who had a puncture near the end of the stage. Leyraud was the one setting the pace on the 2nd day, winning all the stages bar one and winning the Pacific Cup points for fastest of the day.
Reeves had backed off somewhat to preserve his place, as had Sungkar but sometimes cruising leads to a lack of concentration and that’s exactly what happened to the Indonesia 12 kilometre into the final stage. Co-driver Scott Beckwith called “narrow 3 right 10 over crest” but somehow Sungkar miss-heard the call arriving way too fast and crashing off into trees and some large rocks. Thankfully the pair were able to reverse back onto the road without too much damage although the rear wheel had taken a knock, leading to some interesting rear-wheel steering.
Sungkar made it to the end of the stage loosing nearly two minutes, but feeling lucky and ready to celebrate his first full APRC win. Taking maximum 39 points from the event, Sungkar is now third in the APRC drivers championship on 69 points, behind Gill 97 and Taguchi leading with 100 points. With 39 points on offer anything is possible at the final round in China in November. “For sure we’re lucky to survive that moment in the last stage, but I’m so happy we accomplished our plan. For our sponsors Pertamina this is a really important result and I’m so proud to fly the Indonesian flag’, said Sungkar at the finish.
But the weekend really belonged to Reeves, a perfect result winning outright, winning the 2010 Pacific Cup and celebrated on his 22nd birthday. The Australian was full 5 minutes in front of Sungkar and 8 minutes 37 in front of Green. “It’s a fantastic feeling to win the rally,” Reeves said. “Our team have worked really hard to get here, and to finish with our first international outright victory on our first visit to New Caledonia, is awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present!”. Reeve’s win also sets him up for possible inclusion in the 2011 Pirelli Star Driver Challenge.
With the cancelation of Rally Indonesia, the next APRC event is the final round – China Rally 5-7th November.
Rally New Caledonia
1-Brendan Reeves / Rhianon Smyth, 2:58:50
2-Rifat Sungkar / Scott Beckwith, 3:03:50
3-Brian Green / Fleur Pedersen, 3:07:27
4-Alain Dalstein / Mickael Dalstein, 3:10:34
5-Stéphane Lechanteur-Socci / Isabelle Lechanteur-Socci, 3:27:17
Rally New Caledonia – APRC Only
1-Rifat Sungkar / Scott Beckwith, 3:03:50
2-Alain Dalstein / Mickael Dalstein, 3:10:34
3-Stéphane Lechanteur-Socci / Isabelle Lechanteur-Socci, 3:27:17
Source: Brian Young – APRC.TV