: India's Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall) turned out to be Team MRF's master driver, while his teammate and defending champion Katsuhiko Taguchi (co-driver Mark Stacey) made an early exit on the penultimate day of the season's opening Asia Pacific Rally Championship at the Kota Tinggi plantations here on Saturday.

MRF's lead driver Taguchi is known to be a cool customer. For once, he lost his cool and, with it a great chance of repeating his magical act of winning back-to-back titles in Malaysia.

He was obviously disappointed but Gill managed to bring some cheer back to his team by finishing a creditable second. Chris Atkinson (Proton Motorsports) maintained a steady pace to finish ahead of the Indian.

With the overnight rain turning the terrain slippery, the 30-year-old from Delhi planned the day well. He did not compromise on speed. He hit the stages hard and smart for most part and played it soft and smooth in the trickiest of the sections to finish the day on a positive note.

Gill hopes to carry forward the current form to the final day for the sake of his team.

His numerous fans have come all the way from Singapore and various other parts to see him roar in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.

“We knew it would be difficult for us to match those super-duper guys (Alister McRae & Chris Atkinson on the Proton Satria Neo 2000). We decided to be consistent. And, it paid off,” said Gill.

Difficult conditions

He said the stages were slippery. “I have never driven in a slippery terrain as this before. Also, they were really long and winding,” he added. Naturally, it took a toll on the drivers, both physically and mentally.

Gill said they needed to make some changes to the car. “It behaved well but there was a lot of under-steer. We need to work quickly on that.”

MRF's Motor Sports head Tony Rodricks termed Taguchi's exit unfortunate. “He was keen to finish but on a slippery surface as this one, such things tend to happen.

“In Malaysia and Australia we know we are not likely to do well as the terrains are twisty. And Mitsubishi cars are not competitive on such terrains compared to Protons because the latter is lighter by at least 230kg,” he said.

Provisional results (APRC):

Overall: 1. Chris Atkinson (Proton Motorsports) 02:06:29.4; 2. Gaurav Gill (Team MRF) 02:08:09.8; 3. Alister McRae 02:15:56 .

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