The sun was shining brightly along the waterfront in Whangarei. But there was a pall of gloom in the Team MRF camp on the final day of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship here on Sunday.

Both its drivers — Katsuhiko Taguchi and Gaurav Gill — did not finish the race. Taguchi's car went off the road on Stage 13 while Gill suffered a mechanical problem and could not continue after Stage 12.

It was a big setback for Team MRF which had hoped that Gill, who was in joint second place before this round with 60 points, would be able to catch up with Chris Atkinson, the current leader. Atkinson (co-driver Stephane Prevot), who was in the lead overnight, maintained a good speed to win all the eight stages in the APRC category on Sunday, to remain on top of the podium.

The other Proton driver, Alister McRae, (Bill Hayes) finished second.

This was Atkinson's third win of the APRC season. With two more rounds to go, he appears to be a clear candidate for the top honours in 2011.

With the New Zealand roads suited to the faster Proton cars, it was no wonder that they took the first two spots on the podium.

And the event usually dominated by the Kiwis, was in fact dominated by Atkinson.

The surprise package was the third spot, which was taken by Matt Jansen (Jason Farmer). Hayden Paddon, last year's winner here, was not in the APRC category this time. Paddon, however, was the champion in the New Zealand Rally category, which runs simultaneously with the APRC.

“We came over a crest way too fast and braked a little too late. So we went and hit the side, had half-a-roll and got back on the wheels. It doesn't look so good,” said Gill, after he retired on Stage 12.

The next round of the APRC championship is scheduled to be held in Hokkaido, Japan, from September 30.

The provisional results (APRC, overall, top three): 1. Chris Atkinson (Stephane Prevot, Team Proton): 3 hours, 01 minute, 26.9s; 2. Alister McRae (co-driver Bill Hayes, Team Proton): 3:05:22.1; 3. Matt Jansen (Jason Farmer, PMT Motorsport): 3:13:52.3.

Did not finish: Katsuhiko Taguchi (Team MRF) and Gaurav Gill (Team MRF).

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