Chikkamagaluru, 25 Nov 2017: The `King of Indian Motorsports’ was at it again. The Speed Maestro touched speeds of over 170 kmph as he enjoyed a lone `straight’ at the picturesque Coffee Estates owned by sponsors Coffee Day in Chikmagalur on Saturday, the first day of the final round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship .
“I was on 6th for a long stretch and I enjoyed the stage touching high speeds,” said a visibly-pleased Gaurav Gill, who loves his speed. The reigning APRC champion was talking to the reporters at the service park, about his run in Special Stage 1 where he did an average of 63.63 kmph for the stretch of 11.58kms. One veteran driver said, “if you get that kind of an average speed means that Gill was going over 90-kmph consistently for many stretches of these tight and twisty corners.”
Gill and co-driver Stéphane Prévot scored wins in New Zealand and Japan while Ole Christian Veiby and co-driver Stig Rune Skjærmoen succeeded in Australia and Malaysia.
Though Gill is leading by 6 points, whoever wins the Coffee Day India Rallly wins the APRC title this year. “Gaurav and Veiby are allowed to drive without team order for the victory in India and winning the championship, ” said Skoda Motorsport boss, Michal Hrabanek before the rally began. But there was no need for any team orders on Saturday as Veiby, the 21-year-young exciting talent from Norway got into technical issues in the very first stage of the day and lost time on Gill, who by that time was galloping away on his Skoda Fabia R5 like a war horse, with navigator Stephane Prevot, giving the calls accurately on the tricky terrain which is nicknamed as a `Rally of 1000 corners’ by Gill himself, until Veiby renamed it as a `Rally of One million corners’. His first time here at the winding and twisty turns of Chikmagalur estates. In the pre-event press conference, Gill turned to OC and joked, “you are lucky”. And then told the press that the stages were made broader this year. “They opened up the stages and they are much faster and safer,” the current championship leader added.
Only a co-driver can understand the story behind all those umpteen corners one had to drive through. The co-driver prepares pace notes during the recce and say, if each page has about 10 calls, this rally demands a pace notes of over 400 pages which keeps the co-driver busy, and any wrong call will result in an immediate casualty what with the narrow stretches. Different navigators, as they were called in the days of yore, have different styles of preparing notes and different ways of making the calls.
By the end of the day Veiby (OC), Gill’s closest rival and team-mate, despite a late aggression after the gear box change, lost the chance of preventing the Indian from pulling away. Gill created a safe lead of 15min 21.0 seconds, and still not easing off, as is his wont, and is sitting pretty for a grand victorious run on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in the fourth round of the MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship that was run concurrently, Karna Kadur and co-driver Nikhil V Pai in a Volkswagen Polo emerged overall winners, ahead of Arjun Rao (Satish Rajagopal). Karna Kadur, whose ancestral home is at the nearby Kadur, enjoyed the home coming for another great win with Pai calling the pace notes, for a well-deserved victory in INRC2, even if it is by a very close margin of one second, where a charging Arjun Rao, ended at that. Dean, who also has his home in Mangalore, a neighbourhood city, won the INRC3 category with his old-time navigator Shruptha Padival. They slipped to overall third as the results were updated after midnight due to some scratch times, which were awarded for a cancelled stage. The youngster is considered as an up-and-coming talent, who shot into limelight doing great speeds as a teenager, a few years back.
Gill, winner of APRC crowns in 2013 and 2016, enjoyed a six-point lead in the championship over Veiby going into the final round. In order to win the title Veiby has to score seven points more than Gill, which now looks extremely bleak. With four more Special Stages to be run on Sunday covering 64.12 kms, Gill, who leads second-placed PG Abhilash of R3A PGA Motorsports team by 15 minutes, 21.0 seconds, has one hand on the trophy. Veiby is lying third, trailing Abhilash by 02:25.1.
Gill, who turns 36 in six days, was virtually in cruise control mode in his RaceTorque prepared Skoda Fabia R5 after Veiby encountered gearbox and driveshaft problems midway through the day’s first Special Stage. It cost the 21-year old Norwegian massive amount of time with his car losing front-wheel drive and stuck in third gear.
Veiby’s misfortune was to PG Abhilash’s benefit as the Keralite in a Subaru Impreza WRX Sti eased into second place, but remained very much in the sight of a hard-charging Veiby, who after mid-day service saw his team of mechanics change the gearbox in 20 minutes flat. Veiby cut the eight-minute deficit to Abhilash at half-way mark, to a little over two minutes at the end of the day by being the fastest over the last five Stages.
“Somewhere in the day’s first Stage today, I heard some noise and then lost the front-wheel drive. It was very difficult thereafter and worse still, my car was stuck in third gear. My co-driver Stig (Rune Skjarmoen) had to use the handbrake for me. We spun a few times too.
“This is rallying, but I feel the game is not over yet. Anything can happen as there is still a lot of driving left in this rally. Of course, I will push as hard as possible from now on,” said Veiby during the service break.
Despite the healthy advantage, Gill felt he still needed to bring home his car safely on Sunday. “It is a very difficult and long rally. Though I have a big lead, my aim is to bring home the car in one piece. Overall, I am pretty pleased with the car and especially the tyres which are of a new pattern that MRF developed. The tyres offered good grip and I could attack the corners with far more confidence,” said Gill.
Gill, the genial giant, had the advantage of knowing the stages here `nearly by heart’. But he didn’t compete with the Fabia R5 since Rally Japan in mid-September while Veiby in the meantime got a lot of mileage on gravel roads with the same car on World Championship rallies in Spain and the United Kingdom. But he debuts at these estate dirt roads where Gill had his baptism into rallying many years ago.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Mike Young, driving the Volkswagen Polo, was forced to retire following a fuel leak and other mechanical issues. “I thought I had good pace today, but the fuel tank developed a leak on SS-6, though I am not sure how because I didn’t hit anything, and I decided to pull out rather than risk a mishap,” he said.
APRC: 1. Gaurav Gill / Stephane Prevot (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia R5) (02Hrs, 24mins, 22.2secs); 2. PG Abhilash / Srikant Gowda (Team R3A, PGA Motorsports, Subaru Impreza WRX) (02:39:43.2); 3. Ole Christian Veiby / Stig Rune Skjarmoen (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia R5) (02:42:08.3).
MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship – Overall placing): 1. Karna Kadur / Nikhil V Pai (ARKA Motorsports, VW Polo) (01:32:18.3); 2. . Arjun Rao / Satish Rajagopal (VW Polo R2) (01:32:19.3); 3.Dean Mascarenhas / Shruptha Padival (VW Polo) (01:32:54.4).
eom/with inputs from the press release; updated at 10am, 26nov2017