A great start by MRF team

THE script on the rear flanks of the two factory Subaru cars summed up the team's sentiments: `Doing it for Possum.'

SANJAY RAJAN

THE script on the rear flanks of the two factory Subaru cars summed up the team's sentiments: `Doing it for Possum.'

Team MRF's Armin Kremer and Fred Berssen, who won the Subaru Rally.-

Australians Cody Crocker and co-driver Greg Foletta, soon after winning the Subaru Rally of Canberra, paid tribute to their team leader, Possum Bourne, who had been in a coma since the head-on collision during a course inspection in New Zealand prior to the Race to the Sky hill-climb in Cardrona Valley, Wanaka, held about a week prior to this event in the Australian Capital Territory between April 25 and 27.

"We owe it to him (Possum): it is all his work and efforts over many years which have made this team as good as it is today," said Crocker. "So we wanted to show the family, the team and everyone that we are doing all we can to support him by doing the best we can."

From the Subaru Rally Team-Australia, only Possum is registered for the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) 2003 season, of which this is the first of the six rounds. And Possum, a three-time winner of it, was the third seed and hot favourite. Possum, a Kiwi by birth, was also strong favourite for the National Championship angle of the rally, having won the Australian National Rally Championship a record seven times. His boys, however, made sure that it didn't go out of the team's grasp.

An impressive fleet of 35 cars contested the rally, of which only 11 were registered for the APRC. The quantity was lesser than last year, but the quality of competition was certainly better.

Team MRF, which made an impressive APRC debut last year (its driver Stuart Warren, co-driver Darryl Judd, finished second in Group-N and third overall), fielded its two Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7s, but with a completely new set of faces in German Armin Kremer, with countryman Fred Berssen as his co-driver, and Austrian David Doppelreiter, who had Norwegian Ola Floene as his co-driver.

And what a start they provided the Indian tyre giant to the season: two podium finishes (first and third places) in the APRC Group N (unmodified cars category) for the first time and Kremer's APRC overall win, the latter was also the Reds first success in this category in two years.

Kremer, a former European champion who was competing in APRC and in Australia for the first time, showed that he was up there with the best in this region by also finishing fifth in the Rally of Canberra open category. A huge achievement, indeed, for someone driving for the first time on these trying terrains. It was equally commendable for Doppelreiter, who finished third in APRC Group N and sixth in APRC overall, as he had driven on tarmac and snow all his life.

The rally, which covered 730 kilometres, of which the 22 gravel special stages totalled 263 kilometres, wound through pine forests on the first and third days and the foot of the Brindabella Mountains on the second, all of which had been ravaged by the bushfires in January.

The APRC defending champion, Karamjit Singh of Malaysia, did not enter, as he was unable to ready his car in time. Defending Group N champion, Italian Nico Caldarola, was the top seed and Kremer started second.

The former crashed out on Day One when, coming over a crest in stage four of the day's six stages, his car nose-dived and the engine busted.

Kremer, a regular in the World Rally Championship, has years of experience behind him. He brought all of it to the fore, planning his assault masterfully. The German drove with caution on the first day, ending it in second place behind Japanese Fumio Nutahara among APRC Group N and third behind New Zealander Geoff Argyle (in a Group A Evo6.5) and Nutahara in the APRC overall. Only 10.9 seconds separated Nutahara and Kremer.

"The corners were really tight. The Mine Shaft stage was especially demanding. We weren't getting enough traction," said Kremer, who lost precious time when a part of the blower broke and fell under the accelerator pedal, forcing him to cut speed till it was put away.

Doppelreiter lost close to four minutes when he went off the road. A persistent drizzle had made things difficult for the drivers.

The hill section on day two was demanding to say the least, with the tight bends only getting tighter. Eight cars crashed out, and that included two APRC drivers in New Zealanders Andrew Hawkeswood (Paul Fallon) and the Reece Jones (Leo Bult), both strong contenders and dangerous. The former damaged the radiator of his Impreza, which led to the engine seizing, while the latter was forced out with engine trouble in his Evo7.

Kremer retained his overnight position in both classes while Nutahara did one better, upstaging Argyle in the APRC overall.

Kremer was 16 seconds behind Argyle and 17 behind Nutahara at the start of the final day, which comprised seven stages.

But this section of the rally suited Kremer as it had more stretches of straights and less corners, especially Kowen forests-north, which was the venue of stages 16, 19 and 22. "It suited my style of driving. The straights helped. I got my `breaking points' right at the corners."

Kremer must have certainly gone through a gamut of emotions as he revved the engine at the start of the 7.59-km final stage. It was a now or never situation, as just 0.1 second separated him and leader Argyle. Kremer won it by 0.7 second in the end after a flat tyre had slowed down the Kiwi. Meanwhile, Nutahara had lost time on each stage owing to engine heating.

"The continuous drizzle didn't pose much problem, but we had a bit of `over-steer' on the right corners. Need to work on the suspensions, I guess. The pacenotes were precise. It's all coming together now," he said.

Doppelreiter said he felt good to have finished the rally and on the podium. "I'm getting used to the car and the terrain. The experience gained here will help in future rallies," said the Austrian, who is also his country's snowboarding champion. The second round of the APRC is the Rally of Rotorua to be held in New Zealand between July 11 and 13.

The final placings (APRC-registered only): Overall classification: 1. Armin Kremer (Fred Berssen), Germany, Team MRF, Group N, 2:53.56.7; 2. Geoff Argyle (Steve Smith), NZ, A, 2:53.57.4; 3. Fumio Nutahara (Satoshi Hayashi), Japan, N, 2:54.05.5; 4. Chris Atkinson (Ben Atkinson), Aus, A, 3:03.36.7; 5. Brian Green (Fleur Pedersen), NZ, A, 3:06.13.8; 6. David Doppelreiter (Ola Floene), Austria & Norway, Team MRF, N, 3:06.19.0.

Group N: 1. Armin Kremer; 2. Fumio Nutahara; 3. David Doppelreiter; 4. Atsushi Masumura (Tokinori Fukumura); 5. Haruo Takakuwa (Paul Flintoff), Japan & Australia.

He loved adventure

POSSUM BOURNE was the sort of person who found adventure and enjoyment in what he did. And his legion of fans will tell you he was very good at it. His drive to pit his wares against the best took him out of New Zealand, but never far from it. The Aussies, however, loved calling him their own. Warm and friendly, he showed the world, humility and humanity need not be casualties of success. Three Asia-Pacific titles and seven Australian National championship titles stand testimony to his talent. And there was so much more to come.

For those who had the good fortune of meeting the Kiwi — however briefly — the smile on his lips and the sparkle in the eyes remain an enduring image. Peter Raymond George Bourne passed away in a Dunedin Hospital a fortnight ago, aged 47, victim of a tragic road accident. He is survived by his wife Peggy and three children, Taylor (8), Spencer (4) and Jazlin (3). Known as just Possum from the time when as a teenager he rolled his mother's car while swerving to avoid a marsupial on the road near his Pukekohe home, few even knew his real name.

This year, he realised a long-time ambition of competing in the World Rally Championship Group-N category. He finished fourth in the first round in Sweden in February. Mind you, he was driving on snow for the first time. Despite failing to finish in the recent New Zealand leg, he was placed seventh in the standings and would certainly have gone higher.

The final words should belong to his long-time Subaru co-driver Mark Stacey: "Possum's love for the sport was only out-weighed by his love for his wife and children. I know that his amazing spirit lives on in them. We spent hundreds of days doing thousands of kilometres each year, and on every single day, no matter what time zone or where we were in the world, Poss would talk to each of his kids and the last thing he always said was, don't forget your daddy loves you."