The first day of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) contested at the International Rally of Whangarei proved to be eventful as teams battled with changing road conditions, mechanical problems and tyre wear, with Swedish driver Pontus Tidemand ultimately winning the day.
Tidemand, driving a Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000, had a small lead overnight and extended that lead throughout the day as his team-mate and challenger Gaurav Gill (India) struggled with setup before later suffering from a driveshaft problem costing him over four minutes in his Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000, putting Gill in third overnight.
Earlier in day during the morning loop of stages Gill was struggling with the road conditions, describing them as slippery with excess surface gravel because of his road position (first), meaning he lost valuable time to his MRF Skoda team-mate before making promising changes at the midday service.
Meanwhile New Zealander Michael Young, on debut in a Cusco Racing Subaru Impreza GRB, moved into second late in the day after a consistent and clean run across the 150 kilometres of closed special stages.
Indonesian driver Subhan Aska ended up fourth in his Mitsubishi Evolution on his return to New Zealand after struggling with a gearbox issue, leaving him stranded in third, after battling with Young during the morning loop of stages.
Rounding out the top five is New Caledonian driver, Jean-Louis Leyraud, who is celebrating his 130th rally whilst also adjusting to his brand new Skoda Fabia S2000 who says finishing is goal and his fellow competitors should “wait and see at New Caledonia.”.
Japanese driver Mitsuhiro Aoki finished his day in sixth, moving up a spot after his compatriot Rina Ito rolled in the eighth stage of the day.
Both Ito and her co-driver, Paul Santo, were unharmed in the incident and repairs are underway in the hope the pair can re-join the rally tomorrow.
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Top 3 – Driver quotes
Pontus Tidemand: “We really enjoyed this day and I feel like we’re making progress. Our tyres and everything is working perfect and I have no problems, so it’s been a fantastic day.”
“It’s a long way to go still so we try to have the right focus and take it to the finish. The roads are a little faster tomorrow with some tarmac so it will not be easy, but I think I will like it.”
“Yeah for sure we can [back off] but it’s not easy to back off also; it’s too easy to lose concentration when you’re not driving at 100 per cent, it makes it easy to slip off the road or something.”
Michael Young: “I’m pretty happy, I learnt a lot today. We had reasonable pace and while that’s not the main goal we seem to be going okay, just a few driver errors in places. But that’s part of the learning curve and it’s been really good day for us.”
“Malcolm has been helping me a lot, along with some of the other drivers and co-drivers. It’s awesome you know, you need it, I’ve never driven a car like this before so any pointers or tips they give is good and, it seems to be helping.”
“I think the main thing for tomorrow is to keep [Subhan] Aska behind us. I think there is a two minute gap at the moment and hopefully that’s enough. But of course we’re all rally drivers and we all want to push on a bit.”
Gaurav Gill: “We’ve been struggling with some set up issues this morning and you know we try to make some changes in the midday service and it worked well. I did get a lot of confidence back but I think I spoke too soon because the following stage, we had a problem with one of the drive-shafts and all we had was three wheel drive. It’s so difficult to drive this car like this, you can’t choose your corner, you can’t choose your line, you can’t just turn in and go flat out, it just tries to spin you around. These roads are dangerous when you have this kind of problem so we’ve just nursed our car.”
“There is not much we can do so it’s important for me to finish.”