Whangarei (New Zealand), April 28: Gaurav Gill and Team MRF-SKODA will renew their assault on the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship crown when the new, six-round season commences on Friday with the super fast International Rally of Whangarei.
Gill, the 34-year old from Delhi who in 2013 became the first and only Indian to win the coveted APRC title, will be seeking to regain the Whangarei crown that he had claimed in 2014.
He will be piloting a brand new Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia R5 that he drove for the first time on Wednesday during the test session and looked hot and ready for this weekend’s battle.
Gill and his Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall, appear unbeatable though they will be wary of new team-mate 23-year old Fabian Kreim who has had more seat time in the R5, having competed in the German championship last year when he along with co-driver Frank Christian finished second, but the pair has no experience driving on gravel surface.
The two Skoda Fabia R5 cars, powered by 1.6 litre turbo engine, were extremely quick, responsive and settled as they were given a run during Wednesday’s test session. It will take some doing to beat MRF-SKODA team who are eyeing their eighth APRC crown.
Gill is all too familiar with the Special Stages, famous for their wide gravel tracks, flat-out straights and high-speed corners that seem to suit the Indian who looked impressive during Wednesday’s run as he settled down in his car that performed to his every bidding without a twitch.
“It is well known that the Stages in New Zealand are among the fastest in the World. They have extremely fast straights and flowing corners. You can expect average speed of around 125 Kmph. The Stages this weekend are almost same as last year. However, the last Stage which is new is tight and twisty, but still quick.
“Our aim is to do well in Friday’s Spectator Special Stage and then build on the momentum over the following two days,” said Gill on Thursday after completing a reconnaissance run of the Stages.
As for young Kreim, it will be a steep learning curve, having never competed on a gravel surface. However, given his experience in the R5 and with the experienced Christian in the co-driver’s seat, Kreim is expected to be competitive.
Race Torque’s Lane Heenan said: “We’re excited to be starting another season in the APRC with Skoda and Team MRF. Together with MRF Tyres, we are aiming for our eighth Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title, as well as our fifth with Skoda.
“We expect both drivers to be fast, although as always with the first event for the season, the plan is to get both cars to the finish and score valuable points to get our championship defense off to a solid start.”
The three-day International Rally of Whangarei kicks off on Friday with a ceremonial start followed by the Super Special Stage which will be an appetizer for the main course. The action moves to the Special Stages to be run on Saturday and Sunday. In all, the 16 Special Stages are spread over 275 Kms.