PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s Karamjit Singh lived up to his nickname – the Flying Sikh – to put himself back in the chase for a third successive Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) title after staging a marvellous recovery to grab second overall place in the Rally of Rotorua in New Zealand yesterday.
Karamjit and co-driver Allen Oh, using a borrowed Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 car, were unlucky not to have won.
Karamjit, nine seconds behind at the start, went on the attack in the final five special stages to clock the same time as Japanese driver Fumio Nutahara, also driving a Mitsubishi.
Both drivers finished the three-day rally with a time of three hours, 22 minutes and nine seconds.
However, Nutahara was declared the winner under APRC regulations by virtue of being the quicker driver by one second through the first of the special stages.
Nutahara now leads the APRC standings with 26 points after two rounds, followed by Armin Kremer of Germany on 21 points. New Zealand's Geof Argyle (19 points) is fourth and Karamjit (13) is fourth.
The second placing effort in the Rally of Rotorua was indeed a remarkable comeback for the Malaysian driver, considering that he almost did not make it to the starting grid of this race.
The rally in New Zealand is the second round of the six-leg championship.
A lack of sponsorship and budget constraints had earlier threatened to derail the duo's participation in this year's championship, after missing the opening round in Canberra in April.
Karamjit managed to secure last-minute funds to confirm his participation but missed the deadline to ship his Proton Pert Group A car on time.
The 41-year-old thus had to adapt to a leased car but still proved good enough to secure a podium finish at the end of the race.
For Karamjit, that one second which cost him victory was a bitter pill to swallow indeed.
“We were pushing hard but I suppose not hard enough,” said Karamjit in a telephone interview from New Zealand.
“Second is a strong result but to know that all it would have taken to win was one more second clear of Nutahara is something very difficult for me to accept.”
Looking on the bright side, Karamjit said he was happy to have achieved their objective of finishing in the top three, despite facing brake problems at the start of the race.
“We had problems with the car but we accomplished what we had come here to do and that was to score as many points as we can to keep our championship hopes alive,” said Karamjit, who won the APRC overall title in 2001 and 2002.
“From almost not being able to compete in this year’s championship to finishing second this weekend is a very strong boost for the entire team,” said team manager Datuk Abdul Razak Dawood.
“Victory was so close but we are equally delighted with the second place. At least, it will make for a more level playing ground when the championship moves to the Asian region in terms of points.”
Round three of the APRC will be the Rally of Hokkaido in Japan in September, followed by rounds in China (October), Thailand (November) and India (December).
RALLY OF ROTORUA
Leading results: 1. Fumio Nutahara-Satoshi Hayashi (Jpn) Advan PIAA Rally Team 3'00:22.09, 2. Karamjit Singh-Allen Oh (Mas) Petronas EON Racing Team 3'00:22.09, 3. Andrew Hawkeswood-Paul Fallon (Nzl) Force Motorsport 3'00:44.04, 4. Armin Kremer-Fred Berssen (Ger) MRF Tyres 3'02:57.8, 5. Nico Caldarola-Paolo Cecchini (Ita) 3'05:07.4.
APRC standings (after two rounds): 1. Fumio Nutahara (Jpn) 26 pts, 2. Armin Kremer (Ger) 21, 3. Geof Argyle (Nzl) 19, 4. Karamjit Singh (Mas) 13, 5. Andrew Hawkeswood (Nzl) 10.