Gill, Tidemand set for battle royale

Obihiro (Japan), Sep 17 (IANS) Trailing his MRF Tyres team-mate Pontus Tidemand by 43 points after four of the six rounds of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, India’s Gaurav Gill will resume his titanic battle with the Swedish ace in the Rally Hokkaido this weekend.

The Rally Hokkaido, which commences on Friday with a ceremonial start followed by one loop of the 960-metre Super Special Stage, is one of the more punishing rounds in the APRC with as many as 20 Special Stages to be run over 225.35 kms, apart from the Transport section of 735.92 Kms.

Tidemand along with his co-driver and Swedish compatriot Emil Axelsson currently head the APRC points table with 147 points while Gill and his Aussie partner Glenn Macneall are placed second on 104 with the pair, in the factory-supported Skoda Fabia S2000, well on course to seal the team championship for MRF and the manufacturers title for the Czech car major.

For 33-year old Delhi-based Gill, the 2013 APRC champion, it has been an up-and-down season with one win in New Caledonia, two podium finishes in New Zealand and Malaysia, and a retirement in Australia that cost him dearly.

However, he has the opportunity to repeat his 2013 performance when he won the Rally Hokkaido en route to the championship title.

With just two rounds of the APRC remaining, the Rally Hokkaido and the China Rally, and a maximum of 78 points available to the winner, Gill has to produce flawless drives to win both the events and reclaim the championship.

As such, the Rally Hokkaido should witness another titanic battle between the two team-mates.

“It is going to be a very fast rally for sure. The stages are much wider than last time and there are a few new Stages too. I will do my best to win the event though I would have been happier with some testing prior to this event,” said Gill after a reconnaissance run of the Stage on Thursday.

For Tidemand, only 24 but with far more seat time in the Skoda than Gill, it has been a brilliant debut in the APRC following victories in New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia as he kept his wits about him in unfamiliar conditions.

Reflecting on the situation, Tidemand said,”Of course it feels great to come to Japan as the championship leader. But each rally comes with a new challenge, especially for me as I do all these events for the first time and never really know what to expect. We are ready to fight for a great result and hopefully it will be a close and exciting race.”

Gill and Tidemand have been so dominant in their super quick and agile S2000 cars, prepared by Race Torque, that the rest of the APRC pack are barely in the frame, much less offer meaningful challenge to the Team MRF duo.

Even Cusco Racing team’s talented New Zealander Michael Young (co-driver Malcolm Read) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, has been struggling to match the pace of the front-runners.

With just 60 points in the kitty, Young at best can only finish second in the championship, but it is early days yet for the Kiwi to look so far ahead.

Team MRF boss Lane Heenan said,”So far, the year has gone according to plan. The Skoda Fabia S2000 is a proven winner all around the world, and it continues to be the car to beat in the diverse Asia-Pacific Rally Championship events.

“The Rally Hokkaido is an event Team MRF has won on several occasions, and we’re hoping for a similar result this weekend.”

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