Typical Taiping Wet weather takes its toll on the Silverstone Tarmac Rally
Atrociously wet weather marred the start of the final round of the Silverstone Tarmac Rally Championship 2002 at the Taiping Lake Gardens. The afternoon peace and quiet of the road around the Taiping Lake Gardens was shattered by the roar of straight through exhausts made by screaming race engines on the Saturday afternoon of the 28th September 2002. From as early as 9.00 o’clock in the morning, the 30 cars and the thousand or so crew and supporters participating in this round had been gathering at the car park next to the Lake Gardens for registration and scrutineering.
The 4WD regulars like Gunaseelan (Putra 4WD Turbo), Tommy Lee (Putra 4WD Turbo), and Sunthar Saminathan (Mitsubishi EVO), were present as usual, and it looked like it was going to be a 4 way battle for top honours. Veteran rally driver Richard Phong also showed up in a Galant VR4. Next in line were the very fast NA cars of Mohd Hafizy in his super-fast Satria Gti, the Vtecs of Ramesh Subramaniam, Jerry Ng. Newcomer Raymond Liew entered a heavily modified 2.0 litre Civic reputed to put out some 220 horses and cost a small fortune to build.
Mac Chung Jin, better known as ‘CJ’ was out to capture Novice honours in his YS Khong Motorsports prepared Proton Putra. Also there for the first time was Joseph Chan, better known as ‘Joe Prince’ in the Autoworld forum, who took up YS Khong’s advice to young enthusiasts in general, to ‘get your feet wet’ in motorsport events like the Tarmac Rally series. Joe Prince was co-driven by Alex Chia, also a newcomer. Joe’s car was also prepared by YS Khong Motorsports, and the pair were rumoured to have been in secret training on pacenotes, tulip navigation and driving skills with YS. Another pair who also took up the challenge were Teoh Joe Meng and Evan Somu, who entered a stock standard Satria 1.3. “ The only modification we have is the mandatory roll over cage, the seat beltsand the fire extinguishers”, said Joe Meng.
Ian Khong, in his now familiar and colorful Ford Laser Lynx was also present with Gary Lee, his new co-driver who joined him one rally ago in the Kluang round. The 1.8 Turbo is Ford’s statement that they are back to stay in Malaysian motorsports. Maybe the Malaysian spectators will get to see more Fords in competition next season?
The recce of the stages started in the early afternoon, led by the clerk-of-course, Ahmad Shuhaimi. The recce covered seven stages made up of four stages, and of these four, three are repeated in a reverse direction. The total rally covered 243 kilometers, although the actual competitive sections covered only 49 kilometers.
Taiping, also known as “Raintown”, lived up to its name, and it started coming down, first as a slight drizzle an hour before the start, but by the time the rally started at 4.00 pm, it was pouring down in buckets. This didn’t daunt the thousands of spectators who thronged the short one kilometer circuit (run twice to make up the distance); some ran for shelter while others braved the storm with umbrellas and raincoats. I suppose the spectators expected to see spectacular things happening in the rain, and they were not disappointed.
As part of the opening ceremony, there was a motorbike parade, and some demonstration laps to show off a couple of buggies and a Formula car. In the pouring rain, it didn’t come off very well, but the crowd seemed to appreciate the sporty spirit of the organizers, and showed it in their applause as the wet bikers, buggies and formula car went by.
Then came the first special stage of the day. The front runners tip-toed round the stage, with Gunaseelan setting the fastest time of the day, clocking 1 minute 43 seconds, followed by Tommy Lee in 1 minute 46 seconds. Gunaseelan’s car was observed to be smoking, but it didn’t seem to affect his driving style. Said Guna later at the regroup control, “I hope it is the oil form the last blown engine. We just put in a new engine, and didn’t have the chance to run it in. Hope this one stays intact.” Surprise of the day was Hafizy who clocked 1 minute 44 seconds in his Satria Gti, but was penalized 10 seconds for early late arrival at the SS start control, due to a navigational error.
Although it was raining, most of the drivers opted for the Silverstone semi-slicks, due to the fact that they could only change tyres after 3 stages. Since the next two stages were to be run the next day, which was forecast to be dry, it made sense to put on the semi-slicks for this short 2.42 km SS1, tip-toe through, and gain time on the dry stages the next day. In retrospect, the organizers could have given a concession by allowing a tyre change at the end of SS1, since the next restart was the next day. That way, the cars would have been able to go faster in SS1, and some of the cars that went off the road would not have, including the miserable pair of Edward Ho and Mohd Lias Abdullah who skewered their Kelisa RS on the guardrails at the finish of SS1.
SS2 was a 9.02 kilometer stage run at Pokok Tanjung, some 12 kilometers to the north- west of Kamunting. The route is over undulating and twisty country roads, all tarmac. Tyre barriers were put in three locations along very fast straights to slow down the cars in the interest of safety. Our team was stationed at one of these straights, and we discovered how some cars were very fast through these stages; they simply clipped the tyre barriers with their front fenders, knocking them down like bowling pins and sending them flying. SS2 claimed two cars; Sunthar suffered some mechanical failure to his EVO and retired after this stage. Ahmad Shuhaimi’s son, Ahmad Nadzrie, suffered a blown engine and retired within sight of our crew about a kilometer before the end of the stage.
SS3 was a 7.74 kilometer stage along the Batu Kurau –Taiping road, and the terrain was similar to SS2, except that there was a mudslide which covered most of a corner along the route in slippery mud. The organizers were aware of this, and the drivers were supposed to be given a warning about this at the start of the stage. However, some of the participants were not made aware of this fact, and got caught by the mud. CJ Mac was the worst off, flying off the road into a ditch as a result of the mud. His co-driver, Bernard Tan, hit his knee against the rollover cage and broke his kneecap.
SS4 was run through the industrial site, Kamunting Jaya, and SS5 was the same stage run backwards. No major incidents here, except for some spins and wrong slots. The writer was very nearly taken out by a competing car which missed a junction and headed straight for the camera.
SS6 claimed 4 cars; Abdul Halim (Putra 1.8), Yee Kok Hoong (Satria Gti), Rajasegar/Senthil (Honda Vtec) and V Kesavan/Mohd Fisah (Perodua Kancil) all failed to make it to the next SS, suffering either mechanical failure or crashing out.
The last SS of the day was SS7, a repeat of SS2, but run backwards. Half the stafe was dry, but the other half was very wet, thanks again to an afternoon deluge. 500 meters from the end of the stage, Jerry Ng was caught out by a stream of water flowing across the road at the apex of a left hand bend. His Honda ‘floated’ off and slammed into the trees to the right of the road. Moments later, Ian Khong in the Ford Lynx hit the same water stream, and slammed into the same trees passing Jerry’s Honda on the left. The Ford passed the Honda so closely that the wing mirrors on both cars hit each other and broke. The story of the day was the narrow escape that Lee Chee Hong, Jerry’s co-driver had. A little dazed, Lee tried to get out of the Honda after the crash, but was momentarily delayed because his intercom cable was stuck in the intercom set. A couple of seconds later, Ian’s Ford whizzed past his still unopened door. If Lee had not been delayed, he might have been hit. According to Jerry, “He is really lucky! If he had got out, he would be under Ian’s car.
After the crash, both crew got out and stood on the road, waving and slowing down all the cars that followed.
At the end of the day, Gunaseelan won the event with a whopping lead of 40 seconds from Tommy Lee, followed by Hafizy another 13 seconds adrift.
Joseph Chan and Alex Chia went form ‘zero to hero’ in their first event, claiming 12th overall and third in the novice class. Yet another great achievement for the day goes to Teoh Joe Meng and Evan Somu for winning the 1.3 litre class in their Satria 1.3.