Team MRF’s Gaurav Gill is aiming for victory in this weekend’s Hokkaido Rally in Japan. Team MRF head into this weekend’s fifth round of the 2012 Asia-Pacific Rally Championship with a commanding lead in both the Drivers and Teams Trophy standings.
With the absence of Team MRF’s championship leader, Chris Atkinson, due to commitments in the World Rally Championship, the two-day, 18 special stage Hokkaido Rally in Japan is likely to be a two-way fight between Atkinson’s team-mate, Indian Gaurav Gill, and Proton driver Alister McRae.
On paper, Team MRF could clinch both championships this weekend, however, the team are more focussed on getting the Skoda Fabia S2000 of Gill and co-driver, Glenn Macneall, to the finish on Sunday afternoon. “Gaurav’s pretty confident heading into the Hokkaido Rally as he’s always been quick here,” Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, said. “Our plan is to give him a good clean run and get him to the finish. If all works to plan and he takes a win, then it puts him right back in the hunt for the Drivers’ Championship as well.”
Team MRF had initially planned on having series leader Atkinson in Japan as well, but a deal for the Australian to drive the final rounds of the World Rally Championship means that he’ll miss this event, before returning for round six. However, no matter what the result at the Hokkaido Rally, he’ll still lead the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship heading into the final round in China. “Chris could actually secure the championship if Alister McRae doesn’t finish in Japan, but that’s the furthest thing from our minds,” Heenan added.
“We’ve got a full team of mechanics in Japan to look after Gaurav’s car, and with no specification changes since the previous round in Malaysia, we’re confident of a strong result.”
In Atkinson’s absence, Team MRF have also entered New Zealand driver, Brian Green, to score points in the Teams Trophy in Japan. “With more than 40 years of competitive motorsport behind him, Brian has done the rally many times and is a consistent finisher in APRC events, so we’re happy to have him as part of the team for this rally.”
While the area that the rally will be held in endured some rain earlier this week, fine conditions are predicted for the 221.46 kilometres of special stages. Traditionally, the Hokkaido Rally stages aren’t affected too much by the weather due to their heavy gravel surface, although the roads are expected to become quite rutted as the event wears on.“It will be a good test for the car and the MRF tyres, but we’ve been here enough now to know what to expect,” Heenan said.
After a Super Special Stage on Friday night, crews will tackle 10 stages on Saturday, with a further seven stages on Sunday, the longest of which is the 29.60 kilometre New Ashoro Long stage, which is run twice. The event finishes with another Super Special Stage before the ceremonial finish on Sunday afternoon.
APRC points after 4 of 6 rounds
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 courtesy of: APSM TV (Asia Pacific Sports Media and TV)