New car. New hopes. That will be the story when MRF revs up for the 2012 Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) with the Rally of Whangarei to be held here from Saturday.

MRF has opted for the Skoda Fabia S2000 cars this year. The lighter and faster Skodas are expected to make the team more competitive when racing against the compact Proton S2000 cars.

Both the Team MRF drivers, Chris Atkinson of Australia (co-driver Stepahne Prevot of Belgium) and Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall of New Zealand) fancy their chances in the opening race of the season in cool conditions where there is a possibility of rain on the race day.

Atkinson confident

Speaking to the media on Friday, Atkinson sounded confident of putting up a good show. About Skoda Fabia S2000, Atkinson said it was an impressive machine, quite responsive and easier to push ahead.

Atkinson is also familiar with the APRC terrain and will be a top contender for the crown.

Gill will be hoping to clinch his maiden APRC drivers' crown banking on Skodas' brute power, reliability and consistency.

The Indian, had missed the title by a whisker in 2010. He will now be keen to make amends and finish on top of the podium this year.

The entry of Skoda has meant the exit of Mitsubishi Evo X, which had a long association with the tyre giant.

The genial, ever-smiling Katsuhiko Taguchi will be also be missed in the MRF paddock this year. Taguchi won two drivers' titles with the team and was very popular.

The 2012 APRC will begin with the Pacific leg before winding up in Asia in October. With nothing to choose between the teams, an exciting season is in the offing.

A rich fare for the rally enthusiasts is guaranteed.

The schedule: March 31 and April 1: Rally of Whangarei, New Zealand; April 28 & 29: Rally of New Caledonia; May 26 & 27: Rally of Queensland, Australia; July 14 & 15: Malaysian Rally; September 15 & 16: Rally of Hokkaido, Japan; October 26 to 28: China Rally.

More In: Motorsport | Sport