"Why the Asia-Pacific championship?" For an Italian it looks like a quite strange choice and everybody keeps on asking this. The amazing experiences that is possible to live rallying so far from home are the answer to the question.

I can't say that we have been very lucky in our activities overseas anyway… first of telling you the story let me introduce the team:

Nico Caldarola is the driver, from Rome, he's quite well known in Italy where he often had good results especially in gravel rallies; the car is a group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6, prepared by Top Run, the team winner of last 3 World Championships of this category, and this says it all.

Last year Caldarola was racing in New Zealand, Malaysia and Thailand (the last 2 rallies with me), preparing this year season that would have seen him contesting to the whole championship, trying to take the Group N title from the hands of Karamjit Singh, the very fast Malaysian driver in the Proton Pert from the works team. Furthermore this year it looks like there is no one claiming to the overall title, as the Japanese Taguchi left for the WRC and the New Zealander Possum Bourne suffers of a lack of budget for participating to the all the championship. So there was also a small chance of hitting the jackpot and bring in Europe the main crown.


Planning the participation to such rallies is something that needs a very big effort and made my previous experiences in European rallies look like a boy’s game! Freighting the vehicles is just a small part of it (and luckily it’s the freighting agent that takes care of it…without yelling when you tell him that at the last minute a car instead of going to New Zealand must come back in Italy or things like this!). The main problem is that for us travelling and cross a border is something very easy and normal… but it’s not the same down there! Every country has its own rules and papers valid in one country are just paper in the following one.

So in New Zealand your car has to pass an inspection before can circulate; in Malaysia they want the engine number to issue a third party insurance, but this number is not even mentioned in Italian papers, so I don’t know how to give it to them; in China cars get a Chinese plate and all the drivers need to have a temporary licence. And so on for many small things that can easily drive you crazy.. all complicated by the short time between two events.

And obviously we couldn’t renounce to Italian food: so I bought everything that is needed for cooking and I sent it in the container. Will 36 kilos of pasta be enough? I’ll tell you by the end of the year!


Rally of Canberra (Australia) 3-6 May

For a strange coincidence I was in Canberra last year as well, with another driver, so I was like at home there. The rally is a very interesting one: the stages are very nice, some of them quite long, in an area very close to the city, so recce is quite easy. 3 passages allowed, not bad for Aussies, never enough for Italians probably. Anyway recce goes on very quietly, the rhythm is not oppressive and we are back to our place quite early in the evening.

I think the main souvenirs are the five punctures that nearly leave us without road tyres! Oh yes and the ticket we got for speeding in a road section…. there’s no way my driver will ever learn any rule… it’s somehow frustrating.

Having been here last year I am no longer shocked by this, but someone coming to Canberra for the first time can’t forget the Mineshaft: in the homonym stage the road goes down from a crest into what I think should be called a drop, not a road! The feeling is the same of going down from the 5th floor with your rally car! 

At the end of the recce it’s possible to see the spectator stage that will close each one of the three leg. I think it’s one of the best stages of this kind I’ve ever seen. The surface is excellent and there are fast long corners on the racecourse and also a big jump and a tunnel, all in front of a great number of spectators. Furthermore the stage is adjacent to the Exhibition Centre where the rally headquarter is and all the service parks are too.

The opening day of the rally is not excellent for us, we are just fifth in Group N, and also we got a 10” penalty for a delay to a Time Control: for a strange case of destiny we lost too much time for swapping tyres after the 2nd stage. Didn’t we practice enough during recce?

Cody Crocker and Ed Ordynski are fighting for the leadership, then it’s Lintott, Singh and us. As for the overall, the fight between Neal Bates and Possum Bourne lasts 2 stages, then Bates has the usual troubles on his Corolla and leaves Bourne alone.

The second day it’s more intense than the previous one: stages are quite long and even if the opening one (Mineshaft) is not good for us, from the second things improve immediately and, thanks also to some troubles of other drivers, we are back to the service park at the 2nd place in group N!

We keep the position up to the night rest, but the fight for the last leg will be very tough as we have Herridge, a young and well promising driver, behind us of just 10 seconds. Singh is behind him, while Crocker still leads and Ordynski is far behind because of a broken differential. 

The stages in the Kowen forest have been out of rallying for many years, maybe this is the reason of the incredible number of kangaroos jumping everywhere! It’s something really scary.. and not just for them: a kangaroo is heavy enough to badly damage your car, especially while running at high speed!

We start too slowly and we loose 7”, but on the following stage we are 9” faster than Herridge. Back to the service park and 2 more forest stages to go. We loose few seconds, but as our advantage was made of few seconds this is not positive: only the spectators stage to go and 2”9 left. It’s not a lot and he’s always been a couple of seconds faster in that stage.

And guess what? We will race one against the other! It’s hard to find the words to express the feelings inside the cars at that final start…

We loose the battle, but it’s the war that is important.. and it takes to timekeepers 2 or 3 minutes to give us the times.. is it made to increase the thrill? We lost of 1”9 but we keep a small and precious second and the 2nd position in Production Class! The first round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship is very good for us!

Despite some mechanical troubles Possum Bourne wins the rally and Cody Crocker, without a great effort, wins the group N.


Rally of New Caledonia 1-3 June

First of all I have to answer to the main question: “where is New Caledonia?”. It’s a Pacific tropical island, one of the biggest (500 km long, 50 km large), about 2000 km from Australia. The island is under French government so for us it’s easier to communicate. As most of the people live in Noumea, the island is not really crowded. There are some lovely landscapes there and it’s really the classic island where one can dream to live forever!

There are even some Italians living here and we become very popular between them. Everybody wants us at home for dinner! Oh, and the food here is divine… fish is excellent as well as the meat: no problems with “mad cow” here! The pasta will stay well locked in the service van for all the time!

Life in the island is quite relaxed but there’s one horrible habit: people wake up so early in the morning… shops open at 7 am and is not strange to see people jogging on the beach at 5!! I don’t think I could ever live in such a place!

The stages of the 3 legs are in very different places in the island, so that is necessary to drive a lot in the morning to start recce. All the stages have quite different characteristics and some of them are incredibly fast, may be too much! In the opposite there is one stage of 30 km that is just one corner into the other and where the winner will go just 60 km/h.

Being a small island it’s obvious that there are not a lot of cars at the start of the rally, about 19 (including some non homologated cars). The main local driver is Jean Louis Leyraud, he’s the only one in the island to have an international experience and he has a group A Impreza. Then as usual it’s Singh our main opponent (our only opponent: we have the only group N cars entered). The only other overseas driver is “Monster” Tajima, that is going on with testing the new Suzuki Ignis and that gets lots of attention not only for his unusual car but also for his fascinating codriver!

The first leg is made of stages that are quite short, and when they are not short it’s the speed that makes them very short: we win Tiaré stage at 130 km/h! Anyway the stages are really wonderful for the surroundings: the opening stage, Baie Toro, is all on the seaside in a magnificent lagoon. And the day is very positive for us: we win all the stages except the first one and at the end of the leg we are 32” in front of Leyraud and 46” in front of Singh.

The following day everything goes terribly wrong: Boghen, the opening stage (where we rolled during recce…) is very well known by local drivers as they have a rally where they go up and down this stage for all the day. Not a surprise that Leyraud is 10” faster than us, but it must be a surprise for Caldarola that at the start of the following stage, Lebris, looks to be slightly upset by this. Lebris is a very fast stage with long straights and some creeks that slow down the rhythm… we will see just the first creek as the crests preceding it send our car too high in the sky and there is no chance of braking in time for the R2 in the creek. We hit the bank and roll in the middle of the road. Caldarola has 2 broken ribs in the impact.

The accident has been taped by our on-board camera and by the TV crew on the helicopter: this sequence will open the sport news in the local network giving us a great popularity on the island…

After our retirement nothing important happens in the rally: Leyraud keeps Singh at a short distance but doesn’t allow him to get any closer and wins the rally.

The car is too damaged and must be repaired in Italy, we will have to race in New Zealand with our recce car.

One small note: if you want to see the accident video you can download it at Power Pictures web site www.power-pictures.com/downloads.htm as they are the ones that redistribute the images of the championship.







Rally of Rotorua (New Zealand) 29 June – 1 July

New Zealand! For someone grown up watching rally videos this is a destination that can’t be missed! Rotorua was a classic halt for the WRC rally before the rules imposed the reduction of courses so it’s an area full of rallystic history. Well, the 2nd leg is all in forest stages that have never been used by the main rally, it’s mostly in forests, with very long straights broken by junctions… nothing that can’t be missed, to tell the truth. The 3rd leg is short but rather pretty, on public roads quite wide and fast. I didn’t mention the 1st leg for a precise reason: it’s just 3 stages but the history is all there. The famous Motu stage, where Colin McRae built his successes, that was about 48 km is now divided in 2 and it’s followed by Whakarau, which is another classic of the past.

Motu is something really different from the New Zealand we are used to see on TV: it’s a narrow mountain road, very twisty and slow, with the drop on one side and the bank on the other. There are no moments of relax, and all the corners look the same. During the rally, in Motu 2 stage I was thinking “My God this stage never ends. How far is it to go?”. Just to discover there were still 29 pages of notes to the finish! Everybody talks about these two stages and there is no one spending a single word for the rest of the rally.

It’s a very hard rally for recce: it’s 13 different stages, as only 3 are driven twice, and only two runs are allowed during recce. Furthermore Motu area is a long way from Rotorua, as the most far point of the rally is 230 km from the start!

The event is, together with Canberra, the hardest of the championship for the number and the quality of competitors starting. In group N there is not only Singh this time, but a great number of local drivers. In group A Possum Bourne is back: in an attempt of obtaining points for the Asia-Pacific he is at the start in a brand new group A Impreza; too new, the car will break down pretty soon.

The work for our service crew before the rally is very hard as they have to reconvert our recce car in a rally car, unfortunately we won’t be able to reward them properly…

The rally starts in Friday afternoon and we drive immediately to the start of Motu 1. In few meters we realize that our tyre choice is not the best one: some rain from the day before made the track quite slippery and narrow tyres would have been a better choice. Anyway the stage time is not that bad: in 21 km we have been 13” slower than Singh and only Reece Jones is between him and us.

Motu 2 is tougher than Motu 1 and in the twilight is Karamjit Singh to place an astonishing performance: he is first overall! We are second in group N but we are 29” slower.

After the service we go to Whakarau: 33 km of a classic New Zealander country road, very tricky with lots of crests that the dark night makes harder. By the 24th km in a fast downhill part, in a L5 our car leaves the road and runs straight in to the forest rolling many times. What caused the accident? Probably the note was too optimistic, or it was just going too fast, who knows?

Few weeks earlier I was writing my profile for this website and I was not sure of the answer to the question “biggest accident”… now I know! I also hit badly the head and have few seconds of “black-hole” in my memory.

Well, the rally goes on even without us. The overall classification sees the victory of Bruce Herbert that wins easily in his group A Impreza. But the group N proves that Motu stages were not that important: Singh leaves seconds and seconds to Jones that passes him at the very last stage!

The future

The initial plans of stopping the championship are soon retired and Caldarola will back in Malaysia, fourth event of the APRC, that this year has moved from Kuala Lumpur to the historical town of Melaka, so that last year experience won’t be very important as all the stages are different (by the way, also Thailand rally will change location; this means that all this year stages will be new!).

As usually happens when things go wrong it’s the codriver that pays for it and from next events I will be left on the ground, while Caldarola will race with Paolo Cecchini, his former codriver that last year decided to retire, but it’s quite hard to stay too far from rallying, as you know.

At the moment I am just involved with logistic work and I will be in Malaysia to co-ordinate the team (and to translate, as I am the only one that can speak English!). I think this new rule should be safer at least!!


APRC classification


Group N

Herbert (NZ - Subaru Impreza)


Singh (MAL - Proton Pert)


Leyraud (F - Subaru Impreza)


Crocker (AUS - Subaru Impreza)


Bourne (NZ - Subaru Impreza)


Jones (NZ - Mitsubishi Lancer)


Singh (MAL - Proton Pert)


Caldarola (I - Mitsubishi Lancer)


Bates (AUS - Toyota Corolla)


West (NZ - Subaru Impreza)


Ordynski (AUS - Mitsubishi Lancer)


Caldarola (I - Mitsubishi Lancer)


Herridge (AUS - Subaru Impreza)



APRC calendar

3 – 6 May

Rally of Canberra


1 – 3 June

Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie


28 June – 1 July

International Rally of Rotorua


7 – 9 September

Rally Malaysia


20 – 22 October

China Rally Shaoguan


30 November – 1 December

Singha International Rally of Thailand