PETALING JAYA: Scotsman Alister McRae of the Proton R3 Malaysia Rally Team steered his car across the gravel road and under overcast skies to lead the way after eight stages in the opening round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championships in Johor Baru yesterday.
Alister, who is the younger brother of the late world champion Colin McRae, and co-driver Bill Hayes clocked 2’04:16.9 in their Proton Satria Neo 2000 to take a 27-second lead into the final day today.
His nearest challengers are experienced Japanese driver Katsu Taguchi in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and India’s Gaurav Gill, also driving a similar vehicle, and the stage is set for a thrilling finish today.
Alister has two wishes on his mind as he heads for the remaining eight stages.
“I hope it doesn’t rain and my car doesn’t give me any problems,” said Alister.
“It has been a good opening round and, if things stay the way it should be, I am confident of a strong finish.
“But there are another eight stages to tackle and, with such a tricky venue, unexpected things can happen.”
Local rally ace Karamjit Singh suffered a massive blow to his hopes of winning the Malaysian Rally with partner Jagdev Singh.
A mechanical problem barely two kilometres into the opening stage forced his Mitsubishi Evo VIII out of the race.
He retired early to take a good look at his eight-year-old car to see what can possibly be done to get it ready for the final day.
“I am very disappointed at what happened today (yesterday).
“Both of us were looking forward to a great race and a great finish. But now things look so uncertain.
“I can get the car fixed but I won’t know how it will respond tomorrow (today),” said the 48-year-old Karamjit, who is driving under the GSR Penzoil banner.
Karamjit, the former World rally production car champion, never had the best of preparation coming into the championship.
He had consistently complained of the need to replace certain parts, especially the brakes and the gear box, to keep his car competitive.
Malaysia’s hopes are now resting on the shoulders of Muhammad Rafiq Udhaya and his Subaru Impreza after he finished fifth overall.