The fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) is set to get underway this weekend with crews completing the shakedown run earlier this afternoon at the Angsana super special stage, with all of the top drivers vowing to drive carefully across Malaysia’s challenging roads in order to score maximum points.
Current APRC Drivers Championship leader, Esapekka Lappi from Finland in his Team MRF Skoda S2000, says the Malaysian roads are completely different to what he’s used to but he’ll be aiming for another podium finish to keep on top of the drivers’ standings. “This rally is so special but it’s going to be a big challenge. The roads are very slippery and very narrow so we just have to be smart,” said Lappi.
But India’s Gaurav Gill, also in a Team MRF Skoda S2000, who currently sits third in the APRC drivers’ championship, has a lot of experience on these roads after competing here since 2007, and says he is focussed on the championship so will be pushing hard to finish in the top spot. “Malaysia is a real challenge for everyone but we need to get as many points as we. It is the second half of the season now and we need to get back up the leader board as much as we can in terms of our points. We are a bunch of points behind Lappi so we’ll try to make it the most of it here and get all the points back,” said Gill.
Sitting second in the APRC drivers’ championship, only three points behind Lappi, is Indian driver Sanjay Takale in his MRU Motorsports Subaru Impreza, who also has a lot of experience on the roads around Johor Bahru. “I am very much at home in Malaysia but this rally can easily catch you off guard. Your strong points become your weak points as you start to get confident but it’s important for me to finish this rally,” said Takale.
Both Lappi and Takale will also be fighting to gain an early lead in the Asia Pacific Cup, which is contested over three rounds, starting in Malaysia this weekend before heading to Japan and Thailand later in the year.
Joining the two APRC registered drivers in the Asia Cup battle is Yuya Sumiyama (Japan), Tomohide Hasegawa (Japan), Shuhei Muta (Japan), Hiroshi Asakura (Japan), Michael Young (New Zealand) and Chaiyan Longton (Thailand). Last year’s Asia Cup winner, Yuya Sumiyama, is back to defend his title and has a new Subaru WRX which he hopes will keep him in front of the APRC’s top runners this weekend.
For some drivers, including Asakura and Muta,
this event will be the first time they’ve competed on the Malaysian roads but both are hopeful of a good finish. “I already got stuck three times on recce! But I must finish this rally so will try and keep a steady pace,” said Asakura.
Asakura will also be going head to head with his Cusco Racing team-mate and Kiwi young-gun Michael Young as the battle for honours in the two-wheel-drive class heats up. “I plan to drive to survive this weekend,” said Young, “Asakura is a good driver but it’s his first time here and I have rallied in Malaysia four times. So I’m hoping that experience will help me this weekend but these roads are unpredictable so anything can happen.”
The Malaysian Rally gets underway at the Angsana Complex in Johor Bahru from 3.30pm on Friday 23 August. Crews then head north of Johor Bahru to compete across 219.90 kilometres of closed special stages during Saturday and Sunday before concluding back at Angsana at approximately 4.00pm on Sunday 25 August.