The opening round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) started in New Zealand at the International Rally of Whangarei today, with teams from all around the world competing for top honours in the prestigious championship.
With the road conditions described as slippery and dry with lots of loose gravel, crews were instantly faced with a tough challenge but all registered APRC competitors ended the day relatively unscathed.
New APRC driver, Jan Kopecký, now leads the APRC contingency by 23.1 seconds after eight stages held today, around the north of Whangarei city including two runs of the night-time super special stage at Pohe Island.
Kopecký leads over Team MRF Skoda team-mate and current APRC champion, Gaurav Gill, with Australian Mark Pedder in third.
“It was a good day yes. In the second loop I tried to push but I was scared of shredding the tyres. But the tyres were good so I could push some more. But the feeling is good,” said a relaxed Kopecký at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Gill struggled with grip as the first car on the road but says overall, he’s happy with his result. “It was okay. We went well in the morning but in the second loop we beat him [Kopecký], he beat us, so it was pretty even. On the last stage there was too much gravel so we lost a lot of time but we’re hoping to get time back tomorrow, as we’re second on the road tomorrow.
“At the moment it’s more important to stick to my own rhythm. The stages tomorrow are a little different so let’s hope for the best.”
Jun Xu from China, another APRC debutant, also made a steady start on his first ever rally outside of the predominately tarmac stages in China.
In the two-wheel-drive battle, Tom Wilde of Australia and local Kiwi driver, Michael Young, both encountered small problems during the day, causing them to both lose time.
Wilde had an electrical issue which meant he ran 10 minutes late for stage three, resulting in a penalty but the Australian young gun remains optimistic about his start in the APRC.
“In terms of driving, we’re pushing hard even though the car is down a bit on power. We think it was a battery issue so the boys are getting that sorted now so hopefully we’ll be in a better position tomorrow.”
But Michael Young had a minor tyre issue that caused him to stop in the middle of stage, resulting in approximately three minutes of lost time.
“It’s really good to be back home in New Zealand but obviously a bit of an up and down day with the tyre problems. We also had an issue with a rear hub but the Cusco guys are great and they’ve got it all sorted. We just want to finish every day to make sure we’re in a good championship position.”
Young’s Cusco Racing team-mate, Sanjay Takale, also enjoyed his time on the roads in New Zealand but says he is still getting used to the car and echoes Young’s sentiments; the overall championship is the most important factor at the moment.
The rally action continues tomorrow, south of Whangarei, on the traditional northland roads, with a total of approximately 80 kilometres of closed special stages.
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Results after leg one: