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Gill, Team MRF geared for APRC title defense

Whangarei (New Zealand), April 27: India’s Gaurav Gill of Team MRF Tyres appears well primed to begin the defense of his FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship crown as the first round, the International Rally of Whangarei, commences here Friday evening with a ceremonial flag-off followed by a 1Km Super Special Stage that will be run twice.

Delhi-based Gill along with Belgian veteran Stephane Prevot in the co-driver’s seat, has Norway’s 20-year old Ole Christian Veiby as his new team-mate. Veiby is making his debut in the APRC partnered by co-driver and compatriot Stig Rune Skjærmoen.

Both Gill and Veiby, a regular in the World Rally Championship (WRC)-2, are driving similar Skoda Fabia R5 cars, prepared by Race Torque.

Gill enjoyed a phenomenal 2016 season when he won all the six rounds for his second APRC title even as Team MRF Tyres stretched their domination, but he expected a challenging outing over the weekend.

Speaking after a 14-hour reconnaissance run today, Gill said: “The Stages are a mix of new and old, some of which I had driven on a few years ago. However, it will be very challenging and tyre choice will play a crucial role since there is far more gravel on the road than previously. So, it is important to nurse the tyres, especially in the long Stages.

“As I am first on the road on Saturday, I will be doing the sweeping, but in 2014 and 2016 when I won here, I had started first. I want to continue that performance.

“Rains are forecast for Saturday and if it does, then it will help us. Our car, run on India’s MRF tyres, will be up against competition using WRC-spec tyres. But I am confident that we will do well.

“As for my new team-mate Ole, he has more miles in the car than me. He is into his sixth Rally of the year, while this will be my first in four months. So, it is going to be a challenging task overall, but I am up to it.”

Veiby said: “I have some extra butterflies in my stomach ahead of this Rally, and honestly, I don’t know what to expect, but I hope to put in a good performance.”

The super-fast Special Stages totaling 260.64 Kms with flowing corners would see average speeds of about 120 Kmph, but they demand precision driving in view of the loose off-line surface especially on the corners where mistakes will be punished.

The International Rally of Whangarei will be contested over 16 Special Stages totaling 260.64 Kms with a liaison distance of 528.40 Kms. After Friday’s Super Special Stage, the cars head north out of town on Saturday to complete two loops of four Stages. On Sunday, the cars will move south of Whangarei for six more Stages before heading back to the finish at the iconic Quayside Town Basin near the harbour.

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