This week the Asia Pacific Rally Championship moves to the tropical island paradise of New Caledonia.
While the island is known more as a holiday destination, the Rally of New Caledonia is one of the island’s biggest sporting events and for the drivers its hot and hard work as most of the event takes place away from the beaches in an area known as Mont Creve Coeur, translating to “Heart Killing’ in English.
This year a full field of twenty international drivers will take the start with championship points leader Gaurav Gill from India and last years champion Katsu Taguchi leading the charge for MRF Mitsubishi.
Behind are the superfast but sometimes fragile Proton Satria S2000’s of Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson who will be aiming to repeat their Malaysia Rally podium finish.
The last round in Queensland, Australia was not so good for the Proton pair after mechanical issues stopped Atkinson and slowed McRae.
Cusco-Pertamina driver Rifat Sungkar scored full APRC points in last years New Caledonia round and along with New Zealander Brian Green who finished third, should have an early advantage with their local knowledge.
Other international entries include Nathan Quinn from Australia and Indonesian Rally Champion Subhan Aksa – both driving Mitsubishi’s Evo 9’s.
Malaysian Guna Rajoo set out this year to win the APRC’s two-wheel drive cup.
The Proton driver was on track to do this, until his countrymen and former APRC champion Karamjit Singh made a last minute entry in Australia – winning the class and taking maximum points.
With the class leader Akiro Bamba not entered in New Caledonia, the race is on between the two Malaysians to take the class lead.
Adding to the international line-up are Chinese drivers Fan Fan and Hao Yuan, driving the latest Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10’s and supported by Finnish driver Jari KETOMAA as they aim to win the APRC’s Teams award.
And no-one should discount the local drivers who have extensive knowledge of the roads and conditions. Jean–Louis Leyraud and team-mate Denis Palau are entered in the Pacific Cup, while Alexis Barbou and Alain DALSTEIN are entered as wildcards.
The Rally of New Caledonia begins Thursday night with a ceremonial start, shakedown and four short stages near the coast Friday, before heading to the desert like interior for the main action Saturday and Sunday.