Team Kara Cambodia’s Phal Sopheng and co-driver Kim Houth Vong in a Toyota Tacoma led two Japanese contenders in the T1G four-wheel class as the Pattaya to Siem Reap Asia Cross Country Rally entered Cambodia at Koh Kong early yesterday, after completing the first two legs in Thailand following Sunday’s start.
Overall, the lone Cambodians in the 20-strong field were sixth in the standings as seasoned rally drivers from Thailand, led by multiple winner Nattaphon Angrithanon and navigator Peerapong Sombutwong, used their experience and familiarity with the terrain to dominate the Pattaya-Chanthaburi-Koh Kong sectors.
Anrithanon and Sombutwong, winners of the 2014 edition, clocked 4 hours, 12 minutes and 11 seconds over the 464.41km stretch in their trusted Isuzu D-max. Following them 10 minutes adrift in second was Japan’s Tadamitsu Nihori and co-driver Chupaing Chaiwan in a Toyota Hilux.
Cambodian drivers Sopheng and Vong are confident their advantage over Kenjiro Shinazuka and Eiji Chiba in a Suzuki Jimny and Shinichi Morita and Ken Sawada in the same model will ensure them the top prize in their category.
Of the 20 four-wheelers in action, 16 are T1D class, while the T1G and T2D categories have three cars each.
After setting out early yesterday from Poum Thmei, the rally passed through the mountainous region along the Thailand-Cambodia border. Light showers and sharp turns along with several narrow concrete bridges made the Koh Kong to Sihanoukville stretch of 406 km an excitingly difficult challenge.
Meanwhile, in the two-wheel section involving 44 riders from six countries, Cambodia’s Koun Phandara on a KTM EXCF450 held seventh and will be hoping to improve in the Sihanoukville-Phnom Penh-Siem Reap sectors.
Phandara, who finished runner up the last time the rally was held in Cambodia two years ago, has to deal with Japan’s leading trio of Yoshio Ikemachi (Yamaha WR 450F), Keisuke Maeda (KTM 350XC-F) and Tadao Ezure (Yamaha YZ450XC).
The Kingdom’s second contestant, Daravuth Chan on a Suzuki RMXS450, sets out in 25th spot.
The 318.89km Sihanoukville-Phnom Penh challenge spread over two special stages will end at Poum Cha Kreiting on the outskirts of the city.
The rally will ride to the Cambodiana Hotel for an overnight stay before taking off early tomorrow from Srov Skoh commune for the final stretch to Siem Reap.