Rally crews from eight countries around the world are getting ready to tackle the fifth round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) this weekend at the Malaysian Rally, held in Johor Bahru, which is already promising to be the most challenging event of the year.
Daily thunderstorms have swept through the region and while this hasn’t caused damage to the roads, teams say it will be difficult to get car setup right due to the constantly changing conditions. Stages can start completely dry with loose surface gravel before turning into a mud bath later in the same section.
Tyre choice, car setup including suspension settings, tyre wear and mental alertness could all play a huge part in this rally but teams say they relish the challenge and can’t wait to tackle the 14 special stages.
After 3 wins out of 4 events, current APRC championship leader Gaurav Gill is hoping to continue his dominant charge in Malaysia, especially after his Team MRF Skoda Fabia R5 has undergone routine upgrades and parts replacements following the last round in Japan.
“At the end of Rally Hokkaido the team decided to change the engine as a precaution so we put a new one in for this rally knowing it’s a difficult event. So they [team engineers and mechanics] have been at it for the past couple of days preparing everything,” said Gill.
The test held on Wednesday was Gill’s first chance to test the new engine and ensure everything is set right for the upcoming rally, which he also says is incredibly difficult on the car, mind and body.
“The first run of the new engine has been quite good. We had to do a bit of tuning for the suspension to make it softer because there are so many junctions, and it’s better to have good speed in and out of the junctions. But it’s a long rally and it’s very difficult, probably the most difficult of the year so we have to be very careful,” Gill continued.
Meanwhile Gill’s Team MRF team-mate, Fabian Kreim of Germany, is keen to continue his momentum in the APRC Championship and will be looking to push for another podium finish, especially after the high of winning the German Rally Championship last weekend.
“We will push for sure. I have a very good feeling in the car after the test and I hope that we can drive as fast as Gaurav [Gill],” said Kreim.
Although Kreim admits this rally is completely different to any other rally he has done in the past and is looking to extend his experience on various road surfaces around the world.
“It’s hot and the humidity is quite high here. It’s a very different rally to all the other APRC rounds and I think this will be a very big challenge for us. But already the feeling in the car is better than Japan so we feel confident,” he said.
New Zealander Mike Young will continue to chase down the R5 Skoda’s at this event in his Cusco EZY Racing Subaru Impreza but maintains this rally is not about speed, but is rather about survival.
“You have to have a level head and approach this rally a little differently. You can’t go flat out all the time and have to keep a bit in reserve for places that could catch you out, especially because you get so hot and don’t concentrate as much as you should,” Young explained.
“It’s certainly going to be very tough out there but that’s what we have been training for. Mentally you also have to be quite strong and just focus on the game.”
His Cusco EZY Racing team-mate Sanjay Takale of India, who has extensive experience in this region, is also looking forward to the challenge of the notoriously difficult stages although said his goal is to simply finish.
“This rally is a game of surviving,” said Takale. “You have to be neat and tight on all the corners so you have to balance that with the speed. Of course my first aim is to finish and then we see if I can climb up [the leader board] from there.”
“Plus I really enjoy this rally because it is like a second home to me. I won the Malaysian Rally Championship here in 2011 so hopefully that works to my advantage this year,” he continued.
Finnish driver Jari Ketomaa is also joining the international field at the Malaysian Rally this year in the newly built Mitsubishi Mirage. While this car is built to R5 specifications, it’s not yet FIA homologated but the team still saw the Malaysian event as a good opportunity to test the car in the difficult conditions, giving them a chance to truly test its reliability and strength.
Two time winner of the FIA Asia Cup Yuya Sumiyama from Japan returns to Malaysia in a Cusco prepared Subaru Impreza, who will also be hunting for a top result here. After competing in the Malaysian Rally several times, and scoring as high as second in the past, Sumiyama will be a force to be reckoned with here.
Fellow countryman Makoto Kawahara also returns to the APRC in Malaysia after competing in other rounds including New Zealand. His focus is on finishing and getting more points in FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Cup powered by WÜRTH where he currently sits in seventh.
The Malaysian Rally gets underway on Friday evening from 8.45pm at the Angsana Complex before crews tackle 234 kilometres of closed special stages on Saturday and Sunday around the palm oil plantations near Kota Tinggi. The rally then finishes up back at Angsana Complex in Johor Bahru at approximately 4.00pm on Sunday.