Hokkaido, Sep 27: India’s Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall) will be seeking to build on his half-a-point lead over his MRF teammate Esapekka Lappi (Janne Ferme) as the pair, driving the Skoda Fabia S2000, head into this weekend’s Rally Hokkaido, the fifth round of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
Lurking behind the MRF pair is another Indian Sanjay Takale (Sean Gregory), piloting a Mitsubishi Subaru Impreza, just three adrift of Finnish champion Lappi, who is determined to make up for his non-finish in the previous round in Malaysia.
The MRF duo has dominated this year’s series with victories in three of the four rounds held so far although both will be hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of the previous event in Malaysia where Lappi suffered a blown engine on the first day of the rally while Gill had an altercation with an earth bank, before fighting back into the points on Day 2.
But both drivers are determined to push towards championship success in Japan with the Race Torque prepared Skodas clearly the class of the field.
“It’s quite slippery out there I think. There is a lot of thick gravel in the stages and we are car No.2 so we are going to be clearing that out of the way for everybody else. We will go for it but obviously we want to be consistent, fast and try and keep it clean,” said Gill.
Gill also hopes his experience on the technical Japanese stages, based around Obihiro, will pay off after competing in this event for a number of years.
Lappi, is also looking for a top result to safeguard his APRC campaign, despite competing in Japan for the very first time in 2013.
“We will see what Gill will do for first and then decide something. But our main goal is to simply finish. There are only two rallies to go and at least three or four cars can win the championship,” said Lappi.
Conditions in Japan should suit both drivers with most of the rally’s stages on public roads. The stages are fast and narrow, with grass and bushes close to the side of the roads, often covering deep ditches and hidden obstacles.
Team MRF won’t test the Skoda Fabias before the event but past trips to Japan should ensure the cars start with a fast set-up.
The Hokkaido Rally will see drivers tackle 18 special stages over a competitive distance of 232.32 km, with four runs over the 2.54 km Super Special Stage alongside the Satsunai River. The longest stage of the rally is the 29.11 km ‘New Ashoro Long’ stage which will be run three times.