With only three and a half points separating the top three drivers in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), the battle for top honours is set to intensify at the fifth round of the championship, Rally Hokkaido, in Japan this weekend.
Gaurav Gill of India, who currently leads the APRC drivers’ championship, sits only half a point ahead of Team MRF team-mate Esapekka Lappi with Gill’s countryman, Sanjay Takale, hunting the pair down only three points adrift in third.
“It’s quite slippery out there I think. There is a lot of thick gravel in the stages and we are car number one so we are going to be clearing that out of the way for everybody else, but I guess that’s the way it’s going to be,” said Gill.
“We will go for it but obviously we want to be consistent, fast and try and keep it clean.”
Gill also hopes his experience on the technical Japanese stages, based around Obihiro, will pay off against his rivals after competing in this event for a number of years.
Finnish driver, Lappi, is also looking for a top result to safeguard his APRC championship campaign, despite competing in Japan for the very first time in 2013.
“We will see what Gill will for first and then decide something [plan],” said Lappi, “but our main goal is to simply finish. There are only two rallies to go and at least three or four cars can win the championship, so it’s very important for us to finish here.”
But keeping the Skoda backed Team MRF team-mates honest is Indian driver, Sanjay Takale in his MRU Motorsports Subaru Impreza, who is aiming for a top result to continue challenging the top drivers but also to fight back in the Asia Cup mini-championship.
The Asia Cup is three round mini-championship contested over the events held in Malaysia, Japan and Thailand and sees many drivers based around the Asia region return to the championship.
Shuhei Muta, in his Cusco Subaru Impreza, currently leads the Asia Cup after his victory at the first round held in Malaysia but knows his home event in Japan will be tough with many talented Japanese drivers also entered into the event.
Chasing Muta in second place in the Asia Cup is New Zealander Michael Young who is also leading the two-wheel-drive battle which he has the potential to wrap up in Japan.
“Our main aim, like in Malaysia, is to be smart and just finish the rally. But of course we’ll be pushing a little bit in some stages to make sure we bank as many points for our championship campaign as we can,” said Young.
But seeking revenge after his disappointing DNF [did not finish] in Malaysia, is last year’s Asia Cup winner, Yuya Sumiyama, also in a Cusco Subaru Impreza who will be fighting hard to score points at Rally Hokkaido.
“Malaysia was a disaster!” said Sumiyama, “the stage conditions are good here so we’ll be attacking on both leg one and two.”
Rally Hokkaido is set to start from Kita Aikoku service park near Obihiro city at 6.00pm on Friday 27th September. Crews then head north towards Rikubetsu to compete across 232 kilometres of closed special stages during Saturday and Sunday before concluding back at Kita Aikoku at 4.00pm on Sunday 29 September.