Thailand’s Rattopoj Bunchuayluea and co-driver Somkiat Noichard, in their Isuzu D-Max, recorded the best time of 30.48 minutes yesterday in a 40-kilometre sector of the Yokohama-sponsored 2011 Asia Cross-Country Car Rally from Bateay Meanhchey’s Prey Moan to Pouk, in Siem Reap province.
The rally now heads to a climactic, 50-kilometre final sector today, in which crews will race around the Angkor Wat temple complex.
Bunchuayluea and Noichard, who lead the overall classification table with a 12-minute advantage over Jap-an’s Kinya Morikawa and Masayuki Fukano, screeched into the Pouk commune checkpoint about 2:30pm, followed at regular intervals by the other 10 T1D class cars still in contention.
The Thai pair have been credited with a total time of nine hours, 53 minutes for the five completed legs.
Competitors have covered about 500 kilometres since setting off on Saturday from the coastal resort town of Pattaya, in Thailand.
“It was quite slippery and scary this morning. Rain had churned up the red mud, and it was challenging terrain,” Bunchuayluea told the Post after yesterday’s stage.
The Japanese duo, meanwhile, driving a Toyota LandCruiser 80, checked in a minute slower than the leaders to record 31.45 minutes for an overall time of 10 hours, 5 minutes and nine seconds.
The Indian team of Sanjay Takle and Musa Sheriff had every reason to be happy after checking in at Pouk.
Their Isuzu D-Max is the only car left in the T2D class, so they are assured of a class win. Their overall position, however, is sixth. “No Indian team has ever won a cross-country rally outside India, so it’s a small victory for us,” Takle told the Post.
Clerk of the course Visut Sukosi gave a rundown of the rally so far. “There were 15 cars at the entry stage. Four stalled and did not register and there was one breakdown near Aranyaprathet, which is close to the Cambodian border town of Poipet,” he said.
“They are heading to an exciting finish tomorrow, and most of the drivers are thrilled at the prospect of going round a world-famous heritage site like Angkor Wat and finishing the event there.”
The racers were flagged off from the Pattaya beachfront on Saturday for the first competitive section, a short Super Stage at the Balihi Pier. Over the next three days, the competitors zig-zagged across the Thai outback in four subsequent stages before entering Cambodian territ-ory through the Poipet International border crossing.