Reigning Asia Pacific Rally Champion, Gaurav Gill, has started the season in perfect fashion by winning the International Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand.
Driving his Race Torque prepared Team MRF Skoda Fabia R5, this was the Indian’s seventh win in a row, after taking a clean sweep of the APRC events in 2016.
However, it wasn’t easy for Gill and his Belgian co-driver, Stephane Prevot. For much of the event they trailed their 20-year old team-mate, Norwegian Ole Christian Veiby, who was making his debut in the APRC.
Veiby and co-driver, Stig Rune Skjarmoen, won seven of the event’s 15 stages, but a brake problem mid-way through the second day saw them drop to second place – but still ensuring yet another 1-2 result for Team MRF.
“This has been a good rally,” Gill said after two days driving in heavy rain.
“It’s been very, very difficult for me, and while OC (Ole Christian) has been driving very well, the incident today pushed him back, after we had some issues yesterday that pushed us back.
“So, I guess that is part and parcel of the sport. Our other most important thing is to have both cars sitting one and two for Team MRF.”
Veiby’s lead had stretched out to over 33 seconds on day two, but an historic debut win in the APRC wasn’t to be.
“I had a brake problem on the second day and lost a lot of time,” Veiby explained.
He arrived late to the start of the next stage, costing him any chance of the win.
“It was not so nice. I’m quite disappointed as I felt we had this win, but that is rallying, we win together and lose together.
“Second place comes with good points, but as I said I thought we had this win.
“It has been a real pleasure to be here and huge thanks to the guys in the team – they did an amazing job and we improved a lot this weekend and showed good speed.”
The Rally of Whangarei took place north of Auckland, with heavy rain making for extremely wet and slippery conditions over the two days of the event.
“It was raining cats and dogs. The changing conditions of mud and rain made it slippery in places, when others were really grippy. Sometimes it was raining so heavily the wipers couldn’t clear all the water away – it was hard to see at all,” Veiby added.
Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan was happy with the start to the season and for the team to achieve yet another 1-2 result.
“We couldn’t really have asked for a better start to the year,” he said.
“Gaurav once again showed his experience and consistency to take the win, while Ole quickly showed everyone that he has an immense amount of talent, particularly for a driver so young.
“He looked on track for a fairy tale debut win, but a close second is a fantastic start to his first APRC.
“Now we’re focused on the next event, the National Capital Rally in Canberra, Australia. This will be the first time that Canberra has hosted an APRC round for many years, so it will be a real challenge for the team and the drivers.
“While we know we have the speed to win again, we need to make sure that we prepare well and strengthen our position in the championship.”
Final Results, Rally of Whangarei,
FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) round one
1. Gill/Prévot (IND/BEL), ŠKODA FABIA R5, 2:35:06.8 h
2. Veiby/ Skjarmoen (NOR/NOR), ŠKODA FABIA R5, + 2:02.8 min
3. Blomberg/Andersson (SWE/SWE), Mitsubishi Mirage, + 17:45.5 min
4. Takahashi/Nakamura (JPN/JPN), Subaru Impreza WRX STi, + 28:17.3 min
5. Abhilash/Gowda (IND/IND), Subaru Impreza WRX STi, + 37:42.9 min