From an article published by iRallylive.com
Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie, the second round of the 2014 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, takes place this coming weekend:
New Caledonia is an Overseas Territory of France of France in the southwest Pacific, 2 hours by air from Brisbane. Just over a quarter of a million people live there – it is French-speaking. The Rallye starts this Saturday – it’s over 2 legs, with a total competitive distance of 235.78km.
After last month’s opening APRC round in New Zealand, the International Rally of Whangarei, India’s Gaurav Gill, the defending APRC champion, leads the 2014 Drivers table for Team MRF Škoda: he has 38 points to teammate Jan Kopecký with 31. Mark Pedder is in third place with 25, Tom Wilde with 19, Hun Xu of China with 17, Michael Young with 12 and Sanjay Takale with 12.
Gill and his New Zealand co-driver Glenn Macneall are going for a third successive win this weekend: last year they won 11 of the 12 stages.
To get some background, iRally has been talking to Macneall, who this year marks 20 years since his APRC début.
Q) Nouvelle Calédonie/New Caledonia: its official language is French, but it’s a long way from France. What sort of a rally is it?
It’s a very tricky gravel rally. Last year the organisers introduced some new stages close to the capital, Noumea. Previously, the stages were more remote. It’s great that they’re now closer to the city, and accessible to more rally fans. There are three principal stages that are used multiple times. On Saturday they are used in one direction, and on Day Two they’re run the other way round. There’s one stage – Gadji – which is particularly awesome. It’s a real combination of challenges, from fast wide roads over crests to the climb up the mountain side and descent to the open fields below. The descent was the scene of Esapekka Lappi’s off last year on SS4. The other two stages – Magnin and Max Foucher – have literally been carved out of natural forest. The roads were quite new last year and unfortunately heavy rainfall during the weekend made them treacherous – so much so that the running of these stages was cancelled on Day Two last year. The rally is running identical stages this year.
Q: Gaurav and you have won the rally for the last two years. What’s the secret?
I wish I knew! The rally has been the second event in the series for the last few years, and I think that’s the key. Two years ago, Gaurav had never competed in a left-hand drive car, or a Super 2000 car, so it always took the first event to get used to the Fabia S2000. We suffered some early dramas in 2012, but fought back to close the gap and take the lead from our teammate that year, Chris Atkinson. Last year, Esapekka won the opening round of the series in New Zealand. Gaurav hadn’t driven the Škoda for five months, so it was pretty tough to be up against someone who had lots of recent test miles in the car. But by the time we got to Round Two in New Caledonia, we were back in the groove and won the first two stages. The pressure was on. We made a minor mistake, but then they made a bigger one which forced their retirement, and that made our job much easier from that point on.
Q: The opening round of the 2014 APRC at Whangarei saw you and Gaurav working with, and competing against, Jan Kopecký and Pavel Dresler for the first time. The body language looked good. How is it in the team?
The team environment was great. Jan and Pavel are terrific guys. It was obviously very close in New Zealand between us, but it was always an open fair fight. We suffered on Day One running first on the road, and then Jan and Pavel suffered the same on Day Two. They did an outstanding job considering it was their first time in Whangarei. The roads there – like anyone will tell you – are real driver roads so anyone as good as Jan is always going to be competitive. Gaurav and I are looking forward to working with Jan and Pavel throughout the year. They have a lot of experience with the Škoda, so we can learn a lot from them. Equally, Gaurav and I have a lot of knowledge about the unique conditions in Asia, so we can help them get to grips with the environment.