New challenges for Team MRF’s APRC leader in Japan

The Hokkaido Rally is a new challenge for Team MRF’s drivers, Pontus Tidemand and Gaurav Gill. The Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) heads to Japan this weekend for the running of the fifth round of the 2015 title race.

After three wins from four starts, APRC debutante, Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand, holds a sold 43 point lead over his Indian team-mate, Gaurav Gill, while Team MRF Skoda are well clear in both the Manufacturers’ and Team’s Trophy battles.

Like in every other APRC event this season, Tidemand comes to Japan with no knowledge of the Rally Hokkaido stages, but is relishing the chance to drive his Skoda Fabia S2000 on the challenging Japanese stages. “Of course it feels great to come to Japan as the championship leader,” Tideland said. “But each rally comes with a new challenge, especially for me as I do all these events for the first time and never really know what to expect. “Every APRC event is so unique, which gives you an incredible amount of experience and I have to say that there is a certain excitement in doing a rally you have never done before. “We are ready to fight for a great result and hopefully it will be a close and exciting race!”

His convincing lead over Gill, a series regular, has surprised many, but the Indian hasn’t had the luck he may have hoped for when the season started back in April, despite winning round two of the APRC in New Caledonia. Nevertheless, Gill and his Australian co-driver, Glenn Macneall, will be hoping that their experience of the Hokkaido Rally will stand them in good stead over the rally’s 20 special stages. He has also been competing regularly in his home country, and should be in top form when the first stage in Japan gets underway.

“So far the year has gone according to plan,” Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, said. “The Skoda Fabia S2000 is a proven winner all around the world, and it continues to be the car to beat in the diverse Asia-Pacific Rally Championship events. “With the performance of the car at such a high level, the team mainly just plays around with set-up changes to the cars at each event, allowing each driver to fine tune their cars to their liking. “Rally Hokkaido is an event Team MRF has won on several occasions, and we’re hoping for a similar result this weekend.”

Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan’s islands and has widespread forests, mountains and agricultural land. The island is located on the same latitude as northern Italy and France, and due to the North Pacific Current, Hokkaido has long and cold winters. The Tokachi region, where Rally Hokkaido takes place, is a fairly flat area with mostly agricultural land. The island’s two mountain ranges affect Tokachi’s weather and some stages reach the foothills of the mountains, but that is the closest the rally crews will get to those mountains.

The rally base and the service park is located in the city of Obihiro, which has about 170,000 inhabitants and a big interest in rallying permeates the neighbourhood, thanks to the fact that the city hosted Japan’s World Rally Championship event between 2004 and 2007. Twenty special stages will be completed between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. The event starts and finishes with a fast super special stage of less than a kilometre, and the rest of the stages are evenly divided, with 10 stages on Saturday and nine on Sunday, including the super special. A total of 225.35 km of competitive driving faces the Team MRF drivers.

APRC points after round 4

1. Pontus Tidemand 147

2. Gaurav Gill 104

=3. Jean-Louis Leyraud 56

=3. Michael Young 56

5. Subhan Aksa 43

APRC Manufacturers’ points

1. Skoda 156

2. Subaru 76

3. Mitsubishi 46

APRC Teams’ Trophy

1. Team MRF Skoda 311

2. Cusco Racing 78

3. Bosowa Rally Team 44

4. Wan Yu Rally Team 23

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