Whangarei (New Zealand), April 30 (IANS) Gaurav Gill lost a 41-second lead to finish second behind his MRF-SKODA teammate Fabian Kreim at the end of the first day of the International Rally of Whangarei, the first round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) here on Saturday, after picking up a puncture in the day’s last Special Stage.
The difference between Delhi-based Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall) and German Kreim, both driving the Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia R5, is just 4.6 seconds, but with six more Special Stages to be run on Sunday, the Indian remains firm favourite for the title that he last won in 2014.
Gill, the 2013 APRC champion, won the first five of the eight Special Stages before a combination of tyre wear and a puncture saw him lose time to eventually trail Kreim who was understandably cautious considering that he had never before driven on a gravel surface. Gill is driving the Skoda Fabia R5 for the first time.
In third place and some 13 seconds behind Gill was local star Mike Young of CUSCO Racing who had a lot of ground to cover after conceding penalty on Friday night when he withdrew from the Super Special Stage following an electrical problem.
In fact, Young’s misfortune on Friday saw Gill losing time as the Indian was stopped with the New Zealander’s stalled car beside the track before being asked to proceed. The consequent investigation by the Stewards resulting in Gill’s timing being altered to 51 seconds (from 56.4) that moved him from second to first with a lead of 3.8 seconds over Kreim.
On Saturday, being first to be flagged off, Gill, winner of the event in 2014, had the unenviable task of ‘sweeping’ roads that were on the rougher side and extremely dusty due to lack of rains. The conditions did affect the tyres which eventually led to Gill picking up a puncture.
“It was a good day which I spent learning the package of new car, engine and chassis. I did not push as hard as I would have liked to except in a couple of the Stages. Going into the day’s final Stage, I think we led by some 41 seconds, but we suffered a puncture which cost us about 50 seconds. The car made the tyre work really hard and we had to make some changes in the set-up and it made some difference. Anyway, it is good to live to fight another day,” Gill said later.
Kreim (co-driver Frank Christian) was pleased with his performance and said his aim on Sunday is to bring the car back to the finish line in one piece.
“It was good for us today, though I was a bit careful since for the first time in my life I was doing gravel Stages. I got into a good rhythm, but did not really push very hard. Yes, we too had some problems, but otherwise, the car was fine. Tomorrow, it is important that I do not make any mistakes and finish the rally,” the 23-year old said.