Having dominated the Pacific leg, Team MRF will look to overcome the tricky terrains around Johor Bahru, the venue for the fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), during the weekend.
The team has won all three rounds of the championship so far with Finland’s Esapekka Lappi (co-driver Janne Ferm) claiming the honours in New Zealand and Australia and Gaurav Gill (Glenn Macneall) stealing the show in New Caledonia.
Lappi is sitting at the top with 78 points, followed by Sanjay Takale (75), driving a Subaru Impreza, and Gaurav Gill 71.5.
The Malaysian Rally is traditionally one of the most difficult races of the season with hot and humid conditions ready to push the drivers to the limits.
While the ‘Flying Finn’ will be making his Malaysian debut, Gill can count on the knowledge garnered from several outings here.
Meanwhile, Lappi was worried about the heat with the temperatures expected to touch 40 degrees Centigrade. “It’s quite a difficult rally, temperatures up to 40 degrees. It’s hell I think,” Lappi said.
Team MRF boss Lane Heenan said: “I know that Lappi is not really looking forward to the heat,”
“With this being his first time in Malaysia it will be a real learning curve for him, with different roads and different road surfaces through the palm plantations.
“And of course you can almost guarantee that it will be wet and slippery at some stage, so that will make it even tougher for him.
“On the other hand, Gill has done this event a few times and that should give him an advantage. He has shown incredible speed this year and that will give him plenty of confidence,” Heenan said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Rally began on Friday afternoon with the customary ‘shakedown’.
The rally will have 15 special stages with a total distance of 219.9km. The longest stage of the rally is the 26.32km ‘Tai Tak’ stage, which is to be contested twice on Saturday.
Championship positions (after round 3 of 7): Overall drivers: 1. Lappi 78 points; 2. Takale 75; 3. Gill 71.5; 4. Michael Young 28; 5. Hiroshi Asakura 28.
Overall co-drivers: 1. Ferm 78; 2. Sean Gregory 75; 3. Macneall 71.5; 4. Daniel Willson 28; 5. Osamu Yoda 23; 6. Takumi Takahashi 5.
Manufacturers: 1. Skoda 113.5; 2. Subaru 76; 3. Mitsubishi 71.5; 4. Proton 18; 5. Toyota 14.
(S. Sudarsan is in Johor Bahru on the invitation of MRF)