In a remarkable turnaround, defending champion Gaurav Gill, erased a whopping 23.1 second advantage held by teammate Czech Jan Kopecky after day one, to win the Rally of Whangarei by 11.9 seconds on Sunday.
In what he described as one of the best drives of his career, Team MRF’s Gill notched up his sixth career rally win after pocketing all six stages.
This caps an amazing start to his Asia-Pacific Rally Championship campaign which had until Saturday evening seemed to have opened on a jittery note.
“I had really good rhythm in the morning,” Gill said. “I had nothing to lose as I was car no. 2. I drove as fast as I could. I am really happy that I could match him [Kopecky] as he is the European rally champion and my benchmark. It can’t get better than this.”
The 32-year-old Indian chopped two and three seconds each off Kopecky’s lead in the day’s first two stages.
But the one that made the difference was stage 11 (Springfield, 27.43 kms) where he out-did his opponent by 25 seconds to surge to the overall lead. “To be honest, I never thought 25 seconds was possible,” Gill said. Realistic target was 10-13 seconds.
“I have beaten many fine drivers. But to come back like this, being 23 seconds down, is great. The course distance was also half of what it was yesterday. So I had lesser time and fewer opportunities to catch up.”
Kopecky, the reigning European Rally Champion, though disappointed, said “he was richer for the experience and happy that the team had two cars on the podium.‘Good knowledge’
“We have now got good knowledge on how to drive on these tracks,” he said.
“Sometimes the lines will be different and you have to drive by yourself and I accept that. You never know what can happen in these rallies. Gaurav was very fast. I lost confidence for a stage and that’s it. He used his knowledge from the past of this stage.
“Yesterday, gravel was a problem for him, today it was for me.”
The racing bandwagon now moves to New Caledonia for the second rally on May 16.
14 stages, 220 km: 1. Gaurav Gill (Ind) & Glenn Macneall (Nzl) (38 pts) (Team MRF) 2:11:39.7s; 2. Jan Kopecky (Cze) & Pavel Dresler (Cze) (31 pts) (Team MRF) 2:11:51.6s; 3. Mark Pedder (Aus) & Claire Dowling (Aus) (25 pts) (Mitsubishi) 2:20:02.3s.
(N. Sudarshan is in Whangarei at the invitation of MRF).