The island of New Caledonia may be known as a pacific holiday destination, but for the drivers and teams in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship’s round 2 held on the island over the weekend this was no picnic.
Rally of New Caledonia proved to be one of the toughest and roughest in the six event series and only eight competitors made the finishline.
Initially the event was led by Proton’s Per Gunnar Andersson but the Swedish driver dropped time on Saturday morning with electrical problems caused by one of the many deep water-crossings. The Proton’s engine gradually lost more power through the day and team changed the head gasket at final service. Andersson set out on Sunday morning to at least get back on the podium, but his bid for points lasted only 6 kilometres before the engine stopped once again, this time with terminal damage.
Australian Chris Atkinson took over top spot in his MRF Skoda and drove at a blistering pace through the rough and very slippery southern red roads, to hold a lead of nearly two minutes on his team-mate Gaurav Gill. But the lead was to change again when Atkinson lost time when his Fabia stopped in the middle of a stage on the final morning. Again it seems the damage was caused by a water crossing.
Atkinson did get going again but only after Gill passed him in the stage and took over the lead. With the gap between them nearly 5 minutes and the next surviving competitor Brian Green over 10 minutes further back, there was no point in risking any further damage.
Gill and Atkinson drove the remaining stages in safe-mode to ensure an MRF One-two, “I’d really like to thank the team for this one, it was due to them we could keep going. Everyone had issues and I’m sorry for what happened to Chris but the main thing is that it’s still a one-two finish for MRF and the whole team can celebrate”, said a very happy Gill at the finish line.
In third spot was New Zealander Brian Green in his Mitsubishi Lancer, the kiwi also claiming top place in the New Caledonian championship. Fourth and top two-wheel drive competitor was French driver Emmanuel Guigou in a Renault R3.
Behind there was carnage. Last year’s APRC champion Alistair McRae went out on the first day after ripping off a wheel part-way through stage 2, while local driver Jean-Louis Leyruad retired his Citroen after a water-crossing. To further prove how difficult the event was only eight competitors completed the whole event.
Rally New Caledonia 2012 was an event where the mechanics and technicians really made the difference, keeping the cars going in impossible conditions. Sometimes working in thick mud and other times work in the blazing heat – its thanks to these guys that the drivers can then go out and push their cars to the limit.
The next in event in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship is the Rally of Queensland on May 25 – 27th.