Chikkamagaluru, November 23: Excitement and expectations have reached unprecedented levels as the Coffee Day India Rally 2017 which doubles up as the fifth and concluding round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, organized by the Motor Sports Club of Chikkamagalur, commences here tomorrow after tonight’s ceremonial flag-off at the sponsors Coffee Day Global premises.
The fourth round of the MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship, promoted by Ramakrishna Race Performance Management, Kolkata, will be run concurrently with 39 entries.
The highlight of the weekend gala will be the title shootout between defending APRC champion Gaurav Gill and his Team MRF mate Ole Christian Veiby, the 21-year old speed merchant from Norway, both driving the Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia R5, with six points separating the two.
Also in the APRC fray are two more Indians, PG Abhilash of Team PGA Motorsports in a Subaru Impreza WRX Sti who leads in the production class and US-based Sumit Panjabi (SNAP Racing) piloting Mitsubishi Evo VIII besides New Zealand’s Mike Young (Volkswagen Polo R2) and Sri Lankan Sharfaz Junaid (Volkswagen Polo).
The coffee town is agog with excitement with most hotels fully booked by rally enthusiasts and even a bunch of die-hard Gill fans flying in from Singapore to cheer the Indian ace.
Delhi-based Gill (136 points), the twice APRC champion, and Veiby (130) are primed for a no-holds barred battle in the twisty and tricky coffee estate roads of the Coffee Day Global, about 35 Kms from this popular holiday destination.
While Gill, with Belgian Stephane Prevot in the co-driver’s seat, is all too familiar with the terrain and route that is often aptly described as “Rally of 1000 corners” and which he dominated last year when he won all six rounds of the APRC for his second title, Veiby, partnered by compatriot Stig Rune Skjarmoen, has some catching up to do, but has the pace, confidence and daring of the youth to pull off a win.
Through the season, the duo has fought every inch of the way over four rounds as Gill triumphed in New Zealand and Japan, while Veiby took the honours in Australia and Malaysia.
While acknowledging that he is the favourite for the title and enjoys massive home support, Gill summed up the task before him saying there is only one way to retain his crown and that is by winning.
“Yes, I am on familiar terrain here in Chikkamagaluru, but I still have to drive to win. Because of the twisty route, the average speeds will be low and you have to be very precise. It is very much a tactical rally. I may have an advantage over OC, but he has done more rallies this year, including WRC-2 and as such more seat time in the R5. However, it is pretty straightforward as I have to win here to win the championship,” said 35-year old Gill who enjoys a cult following in these parts.
Veiby, seemingly unfazed by the challenge ahead, said: “This is definitely the most thrilling rally this season and without doubt, the most important in the APRC. I am extra excited this time. I am in no way stressed about this even though victory is the only thing that matters. I feel, the pressure will be more on Gill as he is leading the championship and driving on home soil.”
Meanwhile, the MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship has attracted 39 entries headlined by Mahindra Adventure’s UK-based Amittrajit Ghosh (co-driver Ashwin Naik) who is among the favourites to win this round.
Also in the INRC mix are country’s top guns like Arjun Rao, Karna Kadur, Rahul Kanthraj, and Dean Mascarenhas among others who add more glamour and excitement to the star cast.
After Thursday night’s ceremonial flag-off, the event kicks-off with the popular Super Special Stage at the Amber Valley school grounds on Friday evening before the competitors head to the Special Stages on Saturday.
The APRC round covers 502 kms of which 207.54 Kms comprise Special Stages while the INRC cars will do 224.72 kms with 81.63 Kms of Special Stages. The INRC round concludes on Saturday while APRC event terminates on Sunday afternoon.