Team Proton Pert Malaysia drivers Karamjit Singh and Allen Oh retired from Rally Australia today [Saturday] when their Petronas/Malaysia Airlines sponsored Gp N Proton PERT blew a tyre on SS10, the opening stage of Leg 2.

It was a particularly bitter blow for the team considering Singh's fantastic performance yesterday had seen him climb to second in the FIA Production Car Championship.

Upbeat and determined to take the fight to the title challengers for a podium finish, Singh's hopes were high this morning as he tackled the opening stage of the day.

It was however, sadly not to be, as charging hard 8kms into SS10 Singh went over a jump and on landing the left rear tyre exploded.

"Approximately eight kilometres into the opening stage we went over a jump and I heard something at the rear go 'bang' as we landed," he explained. "The handling of the car was immediately affected and I thought the suspension had collapsed. With over seventy kilometres of stages to go before second service, there was no point trying to drive on damaged suspension, so we stopped immediately to investigate. We discovered that it was a tyre that had bust, so we continued with a further sixteen kilometres of the stage to do.

"Jani Paasonen was running behind us on the road and as he is fighting for the Championship title I didn't want to get in his way, so we pulled over to allow him to pass without getting caught in our dust. But instead it was Niall McShea who came through next as Jani had also suffered a puncture and dropped time. I think in all we lost over five minutes in that stage, costing us any chance of a podium result."

Forced to drive the next 16kms of SS10 with a flat tyre, the left rear suspension of Singh's Proton Pert incurred substantial damage over the rough terrain. Adding to this Singh still had a further two stages to do before he could get some assistance at the Remote Tyre Fitting Zone.

Here Team Proton PERT mechanics examined the car but with restricted work allowed and the level of damage incurred too substantial there was nothing they could do. With another two stages and 84kms in total before the car would return to service in Perth, the unfortunate decision was made to retire the car before any further damage was caused.

"We had been going well here," concluded Singh. "This year's Production Car World Rally Championship has not been our best season and we were looking for a good result to set us up for next year. It was going that way until we had an in-car camera fitted this morning. Maybe it was a jinx!

"I know I had the pace to fight at the front on this rally right from the start and unfortunately something out of our control has happened and completely ruined our chances. We have to look forward now, we've already secured the 2004 Asia Pacific Drivers' title this year and in three weeks time we will be in India doing everything we can to take the Manufacturers' title for Proton to end the year on a high."