A big jump played havoc as the battle for victory on Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie turned into a battle for survival after several drivers hit trouble during a dramatic rain-affected opening leg of the second round of the Asia-Pacific championship, which is being bossed by last year’s winner Gaurav Gill.
The jump on stage two, one of several new stages on a revamped route for 2013, proved more severe than many drivers had anticipated during reconnaissance. Australian Matt van Tuinen was taken to hospital after a heavy leading, while countryman Bruce Fullerton was also injured grounding his Mitsubishi Lancer. He was able to continue until an engine glitch – the legacy of his earlier heavy landing – put him out nearing the end of the day.
But the biggest loser during a fraught opening leg was APRC title leader Esapekka Lappi. The man billed as being faster than God in his native Finland, moved ahead of MRF Skoda team-mate Gaurav Gill on stage three only to crash out on a fifth-gear corner on the very next run. Lappi’s Fabia Super 2000 was pitched sideways into a large rock on a downhill section, with the damage too great for the young star to restart on day two.
Gill had gone fastest on the first two stages and was leading by 14s when he suffered a small off-road excursion on stage three. However, the Indian driver lost 30s engaging reverse gear and his 14-second advantage become a 15-second deficit to Lappi before the Finnish champion hit trouble.
New Zealand veteran Brian Green retired taking a wheel off on the same tree stamp that ended Claude Clavel’s challenge. Jean-Michel Brahim failed to start due to a technical problem.
Five crews, including three Asia-Pacific runners, made it through day one, which was trimmed from nine to eight stages due to heavy rain forcing the cancellation of one test.
Heading into Sunday’s eight stages, Gill’s lead over French Renault Clio driver Emmanuel Guigou is 5m28.4s with Sanjay Takale the second best APRC runner in third, 12m40.8s behind Gill. Philippe Blanche is fourth with Simon Knowles the last of the APRC contenders in fifth.
“The car was perfect,” said Gill at the overnight halt in Noumea. “The rally is very demanding but it is a lot of fun to drive here.”
Crews will start day two of the island rally in the knowledge that there is a possibility of more rain.