In Co-ordSport Driver / Team
Karamjit Singh became the first Malaysian driver to win the daunting Safari Rally today. A stunning drive of sheer skill and determination saw Karam charge through the floundering competition in his Gp N Proton PERT to claim his second win of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship which he now leads by 24 points after only his third event.
Forty eight competitors made the start of the 2002 Safari Rally last Friday, of whom less than a quarter survived to see the finish. Legs 1 and 2 of the event completely obliterated over two thirds of the field, 34 cars to be exact, among them were entrants from all six manufacturers. With Leg 3 claiming a further three competitors a skeleton field of only 11 entrants made it to the finish ramp of this epic rally which has more than lived up to it’s reputation as the toughest in the world.
Today’s showdown, the shortest leg of the rally, saw the completion of three sections covering 263.15 competitive kilometres amidst a total route of 683.80 kilometres. All sections were repeats run in the same direction as those on Leg 1.
The opening 106.56 km Ntulele – Kedong section provided the first excitement of the day for Karam and co-driver Allen Oh. The Current Asia Pacific Champion suffered a hard landing after flying six feet in the air breaking a bracket and chassis rail, which cost him nearly three minutes. With luck on his side Karam still managed third fastest on section and with some quick repair work in service was sent safely on his way to the penultimate section.
Patience and consistency finally paying off, Karam put in yet another masterful drive and was rewarded with a fastest time on the Il Damat – Nailongilok section, moving him from third to first overall. Described by Colin McRae’s co-driver, Nicky Grist, as the toughest test in the World Championship, section 11 claimed its prisoners. Front suspension damage cost Italian Ligato 13 minutes and he later retired on section 12 while Toshi Arai suffered a blown engine putting paid to his 2002 Safari Rally.
Leader on the penultimate section of the rally all eyes were on Karam as he headed for the final test of the day. Fans of Malaysia’s ‘Flying Sikh’ were not to be disappointed as he safely brought the car to the finishing line and a fantastic well deserved win on his debut of the world’s toughest rally.
Having battled through 1010.80 competitive kilometres and a staggering total distance of 2434.15 kilometres Karam won the 2002 Safari Rally won by 2 minutes 44.38 seconds from Austria’s Rudi Stohl who is a regular entrant on the Safari Rally.
Karam was jubilant on his second win of the season, “I am absolutely ecstatic to win the Safari Rally. When I arrived and had my first experience of the roads on the recce I seriously did not think I would finish the rally. To win, let alone finish is not 10 times the joy but 100 times the joy. We have won the world famous Safari Rally on our first attempt together and it is a truly fantastic feeling and an excellent achievement.
“Only eleven of forty eight starters finished the rally, this tells you just how bad conditions were. The Safari Rally certainly lives up to its reputation as the toughest rally in the world. I have been rallying for seventeen years and never experienced anything like this, it was truly incredible”.
Allen adds, “This is such an unbelievable rally, it is hard to describe how rough conditions were. This afternoon was turning out to be a real battle between ourselves, Arai and Ligato. We just concentrated on keeping the car on the road and protecting it as much as possible and it has really paid off. Conditions this year were much rougher than when I competed here in 2000, to win here is a fantastic result for us and we will remember it for a very long time.