The penultimate round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) has seen India’s Gaurav Gill take the lead after a day full of drama across Obhiro’s fast, technical roads.
Gill, piloting his Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000, took the lead after his team-mate, Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi, retired with suspension failure in stage nine, leaving Gill with a five minute lead. Lappi will not be rejoining the rally for day two.
“We had a great start this morning but decided to back off a bit, take it easy and just cruise,” said Gill, “Lappi went faster and set some good times so we pushed back but unfortunately for him, he had some problems.”
“This rally is unforgiving. There are huge ruts [channels] all over the stages which can break the car, so we ended up just nursing it. We had to take our chances when Lappi was still running as we wanted to win this round too.”
Chasing Gill is local driver, Yuya Sumiyama, but the Cusco Subaru driver has a five minute deficit so is unlikely to make up the time to Gill over 41 kilometres of closed special stages, unless Gill encounters problems. “Today, we had no trouble. Second [loop of] stages were very rough and very difficult. Tomorrow we will go for maximum Asia Cup points,” said Sumiyama.
Sumiyama is also determined to finish this round after a mechanical failure forced him into retirement at the previous round held in Malaysia, forging the way for compatriot Shuhei Muta to take the Asia Cup series lead. Muta, the current Asia Cup leader, is chasing down Sumiyama but is currently unable to match the pace of Sumiyama, who won the Asia Cup title in 2013.
Further down the field, Sanjay Takale got locked into a close battle with local driver Tomohide Hasegawa but it was the MRU Motorsports driver, Takale, who eventually came out on top. “We managed to finish the first day and that’s what we came here to do. We weren’t trying to go fast and it’s important for me to look after the car this time. I made a mistake in Malaysia and that has been in the back of my mind,” explained Takale. “Of course the roads are getting rougher but we’re in a very good position at the moment.
If we keep in this position, it will really help our APRC championship campaign.”
But quietly chipping away at the two-wheel-drive APRC championship is Kiwi driver, Michael Young, who is aiming to take out the two-wheel-drive championship here, along with the junior cup. “We are really happy with today. The Cusco Toyota has been absolutely fantastic as usual, and we’ve had no mistakes today which is always good,” said Young. “We obviously want to win the title here but finishing tomorrow is more important than anything else. It’s another big day tomorrow so we just need to be careful.”
Rally Hokkaido continues tomorrow around based around the city of Obihiro. Crews will compete across eight special stages covering little over 41 kilometres before finishing at the Kita Aikoku service park at approximately 4.30pm.