The International Rally of Whangarei, the opening race of this year’s FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, got off to a wet start here on Friday.
Incessant rain marked the day’s proceedings, including the mandatory shakedown in the morning and the ceremonial start later in the day. Though more rain has been predicted for the weekend, the organisers are confident of the rally going the entire distance.
Defending APRC champion Team MRF, which has entered into a strategic alliance with Czech car manufacturer Skoda for this season, is represented by a two-car team in its quest for a fifth team title in the championship.
Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glen Macneall), a MRF veteran who has had some successes in the past in championships, will helm one of the Fabia Super 2000s while the other car would be steered by the 2012 Finnish rally champion Esapekka Lappi (co-driver Janne Ferm).
APRC debutant Lappi had five runs in the Shakedown to try out different tyre combos and in the process returned the fastest time ahead of his Indian team-mate.
Speaking to this correspondent at the service park, the Finn was impressed with his machine and said the road conditions were similar to the ones in his native country but with more cambers to tackle.
Commenting on the damp weather, set to a be a motif for the two-day rally, the blond driver said driving out first under such ‘conducive’ conditions would work to Team MRF’s advantage because the grip on the track would be better. “I hope it rains,” was the genial Finn’s parting shot during the media briefing later in the day.
Gill, familiar with the lay of the picturesque route, echoed Lappi’s views on the driving conditions and said he wanted to have a good start to the championship in his quest for a maiden APRC title.
The other teams vying for APRC points in the rally, to be run over 16 stages (with two Super Special Stages) covering 288.66kms, are Cusco Racing with two cars and Sanjay Takle.
The 2013 edition of the APRC also includes rallies in New Caledonia, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, China and Thailand.
Keywords: FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship