Team MRF head in to this weekend’s fourth round of the 2012 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) looking to further extend their dominance.
The team have won all three rounds of the championship so far this year, and team drivers, Chris Atkinson and Guarav Gill, will start the Malaysian Rally as hot favourites.
Atkinson and co-driver, Stephane Prevot, drove their Skoda Fabia S2000 to victory in New Zealand and Australia, while Gill and Glenn Macneall took the win in New Caledonia.
As a result, the Australian/Belgian combination lead the title race by a handy margin of 38 points from their Indian/Australian team-mates, while Team MRF are 55 points ahead of Proton Motorsports in the race for the APRC Teams’ Trophy.
The Malaysian Rally is traditionally one of the most difficult of the season, with hot and humid weather conditions ready to push teams to their limits.
“The event can be a real lottery,” Team MRF team manager, Lane Heenan, said.
“It can be raining in the service park, but five kilometres down the road it can be bone dry, so tyre choice is critical.
“We expect it to be hot and sticky, with temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius, but there’s also a good possibility of rain at some stage during the rally.”
After such a successful start to the season, Race Torque Engineering, who prepare the Team MRF Skodas, have made very few changes to the championship leading cars of Atkinson and Gill for this event.
The Australian’s car will sport a fresh engine, but aside from that, the cars will run in a similar specification to what they did in New Caledonia. The team will even forego a pre-event test session, given the cars’ early season form.
“We’re in a really strong championship position, in the Drivers, Teams and Manufacturers’ titles,” Heenan added.
“Chris has a good lead, but Guarav showed in Queensland that he has the pace to win on speed alone, and we expect both drivers to be pushing hard this weekend.
“I guess that’s not ideal from a team manager’s point of view, but I’d certainly prefer it that way than having our guys struggling for speed.”
After a frustrating electrical fault on the first day in Queensland, Gill will have more to prove than his team-mate and could be the man to catch, although both Team MRF drivers are well aware of the threat from Proton rivals PG Andersson and Alister McRae.
Atkinson and Prevot won the rally last year, and are confident of a similar showing this weekend.
“We’ve had some results in Malaysia in the past, and I’m really looking forward to getting back into the Team MRF Skoda this weekend,” Atkinson said.
“Our start to the year has been almost faultless, and the guys at Race Torque have done an outstanding job in preparing the best cars in the championship.
“The conditions in Malaysia are always tough, but I think our experience of the stages and our MRF tyres will stand us in good stead.
“A one-two finish for Team MRF would be a great result,” he added.
The first stage of the Malaysian Rally will be a 2.5 kilometre super special stage on Friday afternoon, before a further 14 stages and 233 competitive kilometres on Saturday and Sunday.
Further details on the event can be found at www.malaysianrally.com
**2012 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship – after 3 of 6 rounds
1. Chris Atkinson / Stephane Prevot, 101 points
2. Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall, 63
3. Brian Green / Fleur Pedersen, 52
=4. PG Andersson / Emil Axelsson, 48
=4. Alister McRae / Bill Hayes 48
1. Team MRF, 153 points
2. Proton Motorsports, 98
3. Proton R3 Cusco, 36
1. Skoda, 113 points
2. Proton, 65
3. Mitsubishi, 52