ANXIOUS eyes looked skywards last night on the eve of the Rally of Indonesia but there was one set taking a special interest.
Torrential rain, ever present at this time of the year in northern Sumartra was threatening to bog down the 59-strong field of competitors representing 17 countries.
But organisers remained quietly confident yesterday that the storm clouds would skirt the rally course over the next three days.
Clerk of the course and first chairman of the organising committee, Indradjit Sardjono, revealed that a dukun, or magician, had been commissioned to 'hold up and redirect' the rain away from the rally course.
Heavy overnight rain on Monday reduced the surface of many of the stages to the consistency of half-set porridge, rendering pace notes all but useless.
One of the race favourites, 555 Subaru World Rally Team entry Colin McRae, failed to complete the final two stages successfully before the heavens opened.
Hong Kong competitor Virendra Anand, who will drive a Lancia Delta Integrale in Group A, painted a more harrowing picture of how completely the course can change after being lashed by heavy rain.
'Stages 15 and 19 were particularly bad,' Anand said.
'We had six people pushing our reccie car up a small slope at one stage.
'It's a good rally course but rain will turn it upside down.' During yesterday's final scrutineering before the off this morning, the topic of conversation among drivers, support crews and organisers was rain.
But the dukun was clearly hard at work fashioning his rice cakes into neat pyramids and offering his incantations to the gods - the sun was shining brightly and a cool breeze was drying out the host of rubber, cocoa and oil palm plantations through which the competitors will hurtle at breakneck speed.
It would be a cruel blow to the organisers if rain did intervene because this, the opening round of the six-leg Asia-Pacific Rally Series, brings together the strongest field of rally drivers assembled since the inception of the series in 1988.
McRae, a winner of three rounds of the World Championship over the past two years, is just one of a star-studded field of competitors more than capable of winning overall.
Hong Kong's Michael Lieu, winner of the Group N class last year, is back again to defend his title in a Lancer Evolution 2 and like all the other competitors is hoping the rain stays at bay.
Competitors complete a total of eight stages today before swinging towards the scenic Lake Toba region tomorrow.