Gaurav Gill keen to bounce back with victory
The two-car Team MRF, spearheaded by India’s Gaurav Gill, are seeking another 1-2 finish as the third round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship gets underway here on Friday with the International Rally of Johor.
Delhi-based Gill, 35, is defending not only his Malaysian crown, but also the APRC title that he won for the second time last year. Parked between him and success is his MRF-Skoda team-mate, 21-year old from Norway Ole Christian Veiby or just “OC” as he prefers to be called.
Both are piloting the super-quick Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia R5 that has dominated the championship in which Veiby (70 points) with Stig Rune Skaermoen in the co-driver’s seat, leads Gill (68) partnered by Belgian veteran Stephane Prevot.
Gill, who enjoyed a great start to the current season with a victory in New Zealand in April, and followed it up by winning the first round of the Indian National Championship in Coimbatore a fortnight ago, is the clear favourite given his vast experience.
Veiby, after finishing second in New Zealand, bounced back to top the next round in Australia and recently, scored his maiden success in the World Rally Championship-2 category in Poland. Being the Skoda factory driver, the Norwegian youngster has enjoyed far more seat time than Gill who is getting the first feel of the R5 since the Australia round in May.
The heat and high humidity besides sudden thunderstorms which in the past have rendered the Special Stages into slush fields are to be factored in and which make the event the toughest in the championship which this year has been cut to five rounds following cancellation of China Rally. Both Gill and Veiby sampled the terrain during Wednesday’s test session in slippery conditions following overnight rains.
Reflecting on the ensuing event, Gill said: “This is the most difficult Rally of the year, be it for man, machine or tyres. The almost 100 per cent levels of humidity and 35 degrees heat takes a huge toll on the body as temperatures inside the car cabin exceeds 55-60 degrees, and let’s not forget the four layers of race fire-proof overalls I have to wear! The more time I spend away from the car means more practice I have to put in because the R5 is not a regular Rally car and demands respect and constant driving behind the wheel to keep in tune with it. Yes, I had a great weekend in Coimbatore recently, but this is a completely different ball game. Lots of rain is expected over the weekend and the weather is highly unpredictable, but I’ve got only one goal – to win. It’s extremely important to bounce back to the top of the series.”
Veiby, who arrived here on Sunday to acclimatize to the local conditions, said: “This is going to be a special rally. It’s rainy season down here and it’s said that when it’s raining, this is one of the most difficult events in the world. The surface is more or less mud and the rain makes the roads crazily slippery. I have never driven in such conditions. Another challenge is the heat and the high humidity. We have a plan for how to be as prepared as possible for what awaits us and will use the days before the rally to drink, eat and train properly.”
The International Rally of Johor will be run over 735.66 Kms of which 236.56 Kms comprise 14 closed Special Stages the first of which is scheduled for Friday night, a 2.64Kms sprint after the ceremonial flag-off. Thursday is set aside for the mandatory reconnaissance of Special Stages which are located in the nearby palm oil plantations.