The third round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship was held on the beautiful Pacific island of New Caledonia, however it proved to be no holiday for the drivers. Retirements and crashes took out several of the top runners.
First to go was local man Jean-Louis Leyraud who went off at high-speed and although his Subaru was undamaged, beached the car on top of a bank trying to return to the road.
Gaurav Gill was, as always on the ragged edge and never far away from snatching the lead. However the Indian driver came unstuck on stage 11 with a high-speed crash that severely damaged his MRF Mitsubishi and put him out of the event. Gill restarted on Day 2 bagging the bonus points for fastest driver of the day.
Australian driver Nathan Quinn was doing an amazing job to hold second place overall with an old car and very few spares. Unfortunately on the first stage of the second morning Quinn clipped a rock on the inside of a corner, ripping off a wheel and forcing instant retirement.
On the same stage, fourth placed Katsu Taguchi landed heavily after a huge jump smashing the oil cooler. There was little the Japanese driver could do, other than switch off the engine and walk home.
Day two retirements continued with fifth placed Subhan Aksa out near the beginning of the next test with a broken gearbox.
At the head of the field the event was initially led by Indonesia driver Rifat Sungkar, that is until getting his Pertamina-Cusco Mitsubishi stuck on Stage 6.
Co-driver Scott Beckwith managed to push the car back on the road but the incident dropped them down the order to 6th. Sungkar pushed hard through the rest of the event elevating the Pertamina Mitsubishi back to second overall. “Certainly being here last year was an advantage, but mainly it was having a good car and great team” said an elated Sungkar at the finish.
Well in charge and with an incident free run was Australian Chris Atkinson who bought his Proton home in first place. At the finish podium Atkinson commented “everything went according to plan, we built a lead and when we did have a small problem, could afford to drop a few seconds to preserve the car. Stephan did an awesome job all weekend and this result is great for team.”
Team-mate Alister McRae didn’t fair so well with an overheating engine, but by continually filling the radiator with water and sensible driving, third place was just reward.
Atkinson now leads the drivers championship with 70 points, while Gill and McRae are tied for second on 60 points each. Sungkar is next on 45 and fighting over fifth place is Green on 23 points, Fan Fan with 22 and Taguchi 21.
In the manufacturers championship Mitsubishi and Proton are joint leaders with 93 points. Sungkar leads the Pacific Cup 13 points ahead of Atkinson.
The two wheel drive class is now very tight with Karamjit Singh 78 points versus Guna Rajoo’s 77. Akiro Bamba slips to third on 67 points after not running in New Caledonia.
The next event is the Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand July 15-17.
Story and Photos: Brian Young – www.aprc.tv