The first round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) got underway in New Zealand tonight, with Swedish driver Pontus Tidemand taking the top spot in his Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000, following two runs of the short super special stage near the city of Whangarei where the rally is based.
Tidemand, who is competing in New Zealand for the first time at the International Rally of Whangarei, took the lead lead after 2.5 completive kilometres and was the only driver to set a time of less than one minute over the short course getting to only 0.1 of a second from the lap record, set by Team MRF team-mate Gaurav Gill of India in 2014.
Gill, also driving a Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000, finished only 1.3 seconds behind his team-mate and 4.4 seconds ahead of Kiwi duo Michael Young and Malcolm Read in a Cusco Racing Subaru Impreza GRB.
Subhan Aksa (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) of Indonesia and Jean-Louis Leyraud (Skoda Fabia S2000) of New Caledonia also enjoyed their return to the New Zealand roads, as both have competed here before, and finish in fourth and fifth respectively.
Rounding out the top seven were Japanese drivers, Mitsuhiro Aoki (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) and Rina Ito (Mazda Demio).
The rally action continues tomorrow around Whangarei over eight special stages over approximately 150 kilometres of closed special stages.
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Driver Quotes (Top 3)
Gaurav Gill: “Well, it’s great to be back with Team MRF. You know, have to thank them again to have the whole series back here. We’re of course did have a forgetful year. It’s rather that we forget it but we did try our best. We had a great start in NZ last year with a great win and after that, we had some bad luck and I made a few mistakes but yes, you know, I’m ready to forget that. Try to make the best of it .”
“Today I’m making the most of the shakedown and trying to learn the car again. No real changes apart from new tyres from Team MRF with some small changes in the compound and that’s pretty much it.”
Pontus Tidemand: “It will be a really good experience for me, I think I will learn really much. I’m really happy to do this championship this year, so we’ll just do our best and learn as much as we can. I’m especially looking forward to this rally, it’s really nice roads and think it will be good training. I’m just enjoying being here.”
“It’s quite important [to finish]. We just start and keep going and then, we just need to see where we are. There is a lot of fast drivers but the main point for me is just to finish and get some points.”
Michael Young: “Shakedown was more of a test than anything for us because where we went testing it was swept and just way too fast, so shakedown was a bit of a learning curve for me, getting the car turned in and trying to keep it clean and tidy. I’m learning step by step but tomorrow [Saturday] will be the big challenge. It’s a big loop tomorrow, 70 odd kilometres or something, so tyres could be an issue.”
“The roads are definitely dry but I think we’re fifth on the road which is good quite. There should be a nice swept line for us to follow. By the second pass they’ll be completely swept and maybe like tarmac in some places.”