Johor Bahru (Malaysia): The indications are that the Malaysian Rally, which is also the fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), commencing here on Saturday after Friday night’s ceremonial flag-off, will prove to be a tough test for Team MRF’s Gaurav Gill and Pontus Tidemand, who are locked in an intense battle for supremacy.
Following the reconnaissance run on Thursday, both Gill, the 2013 APRC champion, who trails teammate Tidemand of Sweden by 34 points, described the 14 Special Stages, totalling 226.56 km that will be run over two days, as “tough and extremely challenging”.
“I have never seen so much grass on a rally route in all my years in this event. It is going to be hard on the cars, but hopefully, we will come through,” said 33-year old Delhi-based Gill, who will be partnered by his long-time co-driver Glenn Macneall from Australia.
Echoing Gill’s views, 24-year-old Tidemand, who is coming off a second-place finish in World Rally Championship-2 in Finland a fortnight back, felt that as much as the track, the weather conditions could also be a major hurdle.
“The stages are rough and it is my first time in Malaysia. So, I have to get used to the heat and humidity, but I hope to do well,” said Tidemand, who will have fellow-Swede Emil Exelsson beside him.
Gill said his Skoda Fabia S2000 is fitted with a new engine and after tweaking the set-up on Friday, he was happy with the car.
At the half-way mark in the championship, Tidemand heads the standings after wins in New Zealand and Australia and a second place finish behind Gill in the season-opener in New Caledonia. With three more rounds to be run, Gill can ill afford to drop any more points, like he did in Australia where he packed up after the engine expired.
“It was unfortunate not to get the result we were after in Queensland, but we had a great battle with Pontus and I am looking forward to renewing that competition in Malaysia this weekend,” said Gill.
Team MRF’s Skoda Fabia S2000s have not only been the fastest cars in the APRC in recent seasons, but have also been the strongest and most reliable.
Team MRF boss Lane Heenan said: “The Skoda Fabia S2000 is the most successful S2000 car ever and we are confident the cars and MRF Tyres are up to the task of winning at each event we attend. The APRC gives us such diverse conditions that the car needs to be capable of coping with widely varying roads, whether that be the smooth, flowing roads of New Zealand, or the rougher plantation roads in Malaysia.”
Tidemand and Gill will have to contend with 2005 APRC champion Jussi Valimaki, a former MRF team driver, returning to pilot a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X after a gap of eight years, besides 22-year-old New Zealander Mike Young in a Subaru WRX, and Indonesian Subhan Aksa in a Lancer Evo X.