Gaurav Gill put in a mature performance to win the International Rally of Whangarei ahead of Germany’s Fabian Kreim to lead a 1-2 finish for Team MRF-SKODA, here on Sunday, and start the 2016 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship season in great style.
It was 34-year old, Delhi-based Gill’s ninth victory in the APRC series and second in New Zealand following his triumph here in 2014.
Driving the Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia R5 with controlled aggression, Gill, with Australian Glenn Macneall as his co-driver, shrugged off the overnight 4.6-second deficit to Kreim and eventually won by 30.4 seconds despite problems with the turbo following a leak in the actuator during the first of the two loops of the three Special Stages.
After replacing the part during the service break, Gill pushed just enough to maintain his lead over Kreim (co-driver Frank Christian) for a deserving victory.
Gill began the day that saw spells of rain and intermittent drizzle, by making 23.3 seconds over Kreim in the very first Special Stage won by Kiwi hope Mike Young who eventually finished a distant third behind the two MRF-SKODA duo.
Hereabouts, Gill’s Fabia R5 suffered from loss of power that saw him finish third in SS-12 and 13 before returning for service. At this point, the Indian’s lead was cut to 9.3 seconds, but after repairs to the turbo during service, Gill returned for the second loop of the three Stages and stepped up the pace, making 20 seconds on Kreim in SS-14 FOR A 29.3-second lead before easing off in the final two Stages to complete a fluent win.
Gill, who won two of the six Special Stages on Sunday, was pleased as punch with his overall performance, but pointed that he was still learning the finer points of the Fabia R5 that he was driving for the first time.
“Obviously, I am extremely happy that I won today. Every win is special and today, after overcoming the overnight deficit, I opened a sizeable lead over Fabian and thereafter, my intention was to nurse it to the finish. The weather also changed overnight and we had to cope with it.
“We had problems with the turbo with a leaking actuator that we replaced during service after the first loop, but with hardly a minute to spare. Thus, we were very much down on power during the first loop. However, I made 20 seconds on Fabian after repairs before deciding to ease off and drive to his pace rather than push as I had enough lead to win. My aim was to finish the event straining the car or the engine.
“Overall, I drove about 80-85 per cent to my potential since I am learning the new car and get the set-up right as it was prepared for Rally of Finland. From now on, I have to be consistent and keep scoring points,” said Gill.
On his part, Kreim was happy to bag some points on his APRC debut and said he met his target of finish the Rally safely while keeping the championship in mind.
“I drove just like I did yesterday while the conditions, due to rains, were far better today. Like I said earlier, our intention was to bring the car to the finish line and score some championship points which we did though we too had some problem with the turbo,” said Kreim.
A delighted Lane Heenan of Race Torque said: “Since this was the first round, it was important that both our cars finished. Considering that Gaurav was driving the R5 for the first time, it was a pretty good result for him. The rains also helped as it afforded more grip.
“As for Fabian, he is still young and finding his way. He has had a good start for the championship by taking some points. I am happy that we had a 1-2 finish, but there is still a long way to go and we have to take one round at a time.”
APRC Classification (Provisional): 1. Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall (Team MRF-SKODA, Skoda Fabia R5) (02hrs, 55mins, 50.3secs); 2. Fabian Kreim / Frank Christian (Team MRF-SKODA, Skoda Fabia R5) (); 3. Mike Young / Malcolm Read (EZY Racing, Subaru Impreza WRX STi) ( ).
Gill’s previous APRC victories: 2008 – Malaysia; 2010 – Australia; 2012 – New Caledonia; 2013 – New Caledonia and Japan (wins APRC championship); 2014 – Malaysia and New Zealand; 2015 – New Caledonia. 2016 – New Zealand.