Johor Bahru, October 30: Gaurav Gill of Team MRF took a giant stride towards regaining the coveted FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship title as he completed Leg-1 of the Malaysian Rally with a seven-minute lead even as team-mate and his closest challenger Fabian Kreim retired with a gearbox problem here today.
While the rains stayed away, Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall) drove his MRF Skoda Fabia R5 with great maturity to survive some tough moments and looked set to win his fifth consecutive APRC round this season which will ensure him the title that he last won in 2013.
Delhi-based Gill tempered his aggressive driving style to suit the conditions as he nursed the car to the finish after surviving turbo and overheating problems due to grass clogging the radiator grill for a seven-minute advantage over second-placed Michael Young (Malcolm Read) of Cusco Racing.
“I am very lucky to be at the finish. It was a tough day. We had issues with overheating of the turbo leading to lack of boost after grass blocked the radiator grill in the very first Stage. The water temperature went through the roof. So, I had to nurse the car all the way through. We had a better run in the second half of the day when it was cooler.
“It was not just about competing against others but also driving according to the conditions. Like I said, I am happy to be here at the finish. Hopefully, I will be able to finish the rally tomorrow without any problems,” said a relieved Gill.
Despite the problems with the car, Gill was still far quicker than the rest of the field that included World Rally Championship driver Jari Ketoma from Finland who drove a Mitsubishi Mirage.
“I am happy to finish four minutes ahead of Ketoma in the overall classification. Ketoma is one of the finest rally drivers in the World, but the weather conditions, hot and humid, so typical of Malaysian Rally, proved too much for him,” Gill said.
Meanwhile, German champion Kreim (co-driver Frank Christian), trailing Gill by 42 points in the APRC stakes, pushed his MRF Skoda Fabia R5 to the limit in a bid to stay with the Indian. In the process, he went off the road into a ditch on SS-6, and while trying to reverse the car, broke the gearbox.
“That is the nature of the sport. I was pushing hard, but we went into a ditch in SS-6. I engaged the reverse gear trying to get back on the road, and it damaged the gearbox,” said Kreim who will rejoin the Rally tomorrow in a bid to garner crucial leg points.
The Rally ends tomorrow when the remaining six of the 14 Special Stages will be run.
Provisional classifications (After Leg-1):
Asia Pacific Rally Championship: 1. Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall (Team MRF) (01hour, 38mins, 59.6secs); 2. Michael Young / Malcolm Read (Cusco Racing) (01:46:20.09); 3. Sanjay Takale (Cusco Racing) (01:54:19.6).
Asia Cup: 1. Gill / Macneall (01:38.59.6); 2. Young / Read (01:46:20.09); Yuya Sumiyama / Takahiro Yasui (Cusco Racing) (01:49:18.2).
Overall: 1. Gill / Macneall (01:38.59.6); 2. Jari Ketoma / Mikko Luka (Pvt) (01:43:16.5); Young / Read (01:46:20.09).