Team MRF head into the this weekend’s China Rally Longyou perfectly placed to win all three Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) titles.
Indian driver, Gaurav Gill, currently holds a 13.5 point Drivers’ title lead in his Skoda Fabia S2000, with Skoda and Team MRF are also on track to win the Manufacturers and Teams’ Cup awards respectively.
Gill’s Finnish team-mate, Esapekka Lappi, has endured bad luck in recent rounds of the APRC, but a strong finish in China should see him move up to second in the championship race.
As they were in previous years, the China Rally Longyou’s shakedown stage and stage one are all held at the Shiyuan Motorsports Complex, while the special stages for Legs 1 and 2 are run through bamboo forests.
“It’s a really tricky event, because about 55 per cent of the rally’s stages are run on concrete,” Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, said.
“The stages tend to wind their way up mountains with twisty roads and plenty of hairpins, then they open up on the downhill sections on the other side.
“They can be quite rough and rutted as well, so the cars need to be strong enough to take that.”
The Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabias have been the cars to beat in this year’s APRC, with Gill and Lappi winning four of the five events held so far.
Gill, with Australian co-driver, Glenn Macneall, only has to finish the rally to secure his first APRC title, while Lappi starts the rally in great form, having finished second in the S2000 category at the recent Sanremo Rally in Italy.
“The championships are there for the taking, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves and need to ensure we get both cars to the finish,” Heenan added.
“Tyre wear will be a critical factor over the event’s 13 stages, with the gravel tyres sure to take a pounding on the concrete sections.
“However, we’ve planned well for the final round of this year’s championship, and feel confident that we’ll be celebrating three titles on Sunday evening.”
Weather conditions for the event are expected to be fine and mild, with temperatures in the 15 to 23 degree range.
Neither of the Team MRF drivers have won the event before, with this being Lappi’s first visit to the rally.
CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS after 5 of 6 rounds:
1 Gaurav Gill 117.5;
2 Sanjay Takale 104;
3 Michael Young 92;
4 Esapekka Lappi 78;
5 Hiroshi Asakura 53
1 ŠKODA 158.5;
2 Subaru 145;
3 Mitsubishi 104.5;
4 Toyota 55;
5 PROTON 29;
6 Suzuki 24
Photos courtesy of: APSM TV (Asia Pacific Sports Media and TV)