Team MRF’s Chris Atkinson holds a commanding 45 point lead in the 2012 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), despite a challenging weekend in Malaysia.
Atkinson and his co-driver, Stephane Prevot, recovered from early overheating problems to finish second APRC competitors in the event, but team-mates, Guarav Gill and Glenn Macneall, weren’t so lucky, retiring on day two after holding down second place.
With their Skoda Fabia S2000s, Team MRF went in to the fourth round of the APRC having won all three events that preceded it. In wet and muddy conditions Atkinson choose mud tyres for the first two stages, and his decision paid dividends as he moved into an early lead. But the Queenslander’s charge was slowed on the third stage when a spilt radiator core caused a heater pipe to burst inside the car.
Atkinson and Prevot needed to disconnect the pipes and bypass the heater mid-stage, in order to continue. He lost over 20 minutes in the stage, and subsequently dropped to second last place in the standings.
Gill, meanwhile, kept the pressure on the Protons of PG Andersson and Alister McRae, and finished the first day in second place. Unfortunately, the Indian’s charge came to an end early on day two when his car suffered the same overheating problem as Atkinson’s car. He and Macneall repaired the car, but after the stage they couldn’t get the engine to restart because of an electrical fault, and they were forced to retire from the rally.
Atkinson, meanwhile, pushed on, moving further up the APRC leader board with a string of fastest stage times. By the time the event’s 15 stages were completed, he was second, further strengthening his championship hopes. “It was a tough day at the office,” Atkinson said. “We had an early lead and looked to be on the right tyre for the conditions, then the water pipe burst and we lost 20 minutes. “From then on it was a matter of trying to make it back up the leader board and higher into the points. “It was a crazy Rally Malaysia, but to get back to second after all the time lost on day one is great. We got some good points for the championship, so a big thanks to MRF Tyres and Race Torque for their efforts.”
Team boss, Lane Heenan, was pleased with Atkinson’s result, but disappointed with a few mechanical issues that the team encountered. “The set-up that we chose for the cars were really good, but to have the same heater core problems on both cars was disappointing,” Heenan said. “To lose Gaurav with a similar electrical problem as he had in Queensland was also frustrating, but we leave Malaysia in a strong position in the championship, and with two rounds to go, things are looking good.” Team MRF now have a two month break before the next round of the APRC, in Japan from September 15-16.
In the meantime, Chris Atkinson heads to the World Rally Championship event in Finland, where he’ll drive a Citroen DS3 for the Qatar World Rally Team.
Final Results, 2012 Malaysia Rally – APRC round 4
1. Alister McRae / Bill Hayes, Proton Satria Neo S2000
2. Yayu Sumiyama / Naoki Kase, Cusco Mitsubishi Lancer 10 (Asia Cup only)
3. Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prevot, Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000
4. Brian Green / Fleur Pedersen, Subaru Impreza WRX STI
APRC points after 4 of 6 rounds Drivers:
1. Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prevot, 126 points
2. Alister McRae / Bill Hayes, 81 points
3. Brian Green / Fleur Pedersen, 71 points
4. Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall, 68 points
1. Team MRF, 184 points
2. Proton Motorsports, 138 points
3. Proton R3 Cusco, 84 points
1. Skoda, 140 points
2. Proton, 102 points
3. Mitsubishi 75 points
4. Subaru, 12 points
PHOTOS: Mike Young and Rallylive.net