Chikkamagaluru, November 25: India’s Gaurav Gill of Team MRF tightened his grip on the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship title as his closest rival and team-mate Ole Christian Veiby from Norway dropped out of contention with a gear box problem on the penultimate day of the Coffee Day India Rally here on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in the fourth round of the MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship that was run concurrently, Karna Kadur and co-driver Nikhil V Pai in a Volkswagen Polo emerged overall winners, ahead of Dean Mascarenhas (co-driver Shruptha Paduval) and Arjun Rao (Satish Rajagopal).
Gill, winner of APRC crowns in 2013 and 2016, enjoyed a six-point lead in the championship over Veiby going into the final round. In the event, the expected titanic battle between the two effectively dissipated when Veiby’s Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia R5 suffered mechanical problems.
With four more Special Stages to be run on Sunday covering 64.12 Kms, Gill, who leads second-placed PG Abhilash of R3A PGA Motorsports team by 15 minutes, 21.0 seconds, has one hand on the trophy. Veiby is lying third, trailing Abhilash by 02:25.1.
Delhi-based 35-year old Gill was virtually in cruise control mode in his Skoda Fabia R5 after Veiby encountered gearbox and driveshaft problems midway through the day’s first Special Stage. It cost the 21-year old Norwegian massive amount of time with his car losing front-wheel drive and stuck in third gear.
Veiby’s misfortune was to PG Abhilash’s benefit as the Keralite in a Subaru Impreza WRX Sti eased into second place, but remained very much in the sight of a hard-charging Veiby, who after mid-day service saw his team of mechanics change the gearbox in 20 minutes flat. Veiby cut the eight-minute deficit to Abhilash at half-way mark, to a little over two minutes at the end of the day by being the fastest over the last five Stages.
“Somewhere in the day’s first Stage today, I heard some noise and then lost the front-wheel drive. It was very difficult thereafter and worse still, my car was stuck in third gear. My co-driver Stig (Rune Skjarmoen) had to use the handbrake for me. We spun a few times too.
“This is rallying, but I feel the game is not over yet. Anything can happen as there is still a lot of driving left in this rally. Of course, I will push as hard as possible from now on,” said Veiby during the service break.
Despite the healthy advantage, Gill felt he still needed to bring home his car safely on Sunday. “It is a very difficult and long rally. Though I have a big lead, my aim is to bring home the car in one piece. Overall, I am pretty pleased with the car and especially the tyres which are of a new pattern that MRF developed. The tyres offered good grip and I could attack the corners with far more confidence,” said Gill.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Mike Young, driving the Volkswagen Polo, was forced to retire following fuel leak and other mechanical issues. “I thought I had good pace today, but the fuel tank developed a leak on SS-6, though I am not sure how because I didn’t hit anything, and I decided to pull out rather than risk a mishap,” he said.
APRC: 1. Gaurav Gill / Stephane Prevot (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia R5) (02Hrs, 24mins, 22.2secs); 2. PG Abhilash / Srikant Gowda (Team R3A, PGA Motorsports, Subaru Impreza WRX) (02:39:43.2); 3. Ole Christian Veiby / Stig Rune Skjarmoen (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia R5) (02:42:08.3).
MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship – Overall placing): 1. Karna Kadur / Nikhil V Pai (ARKA Motorsports, VW Polo) (01:32:18.3); 2. Dean Mascarenhas / Shruptha Padival (VW Polo) (01:32:54.4); 3. Arjun Rao / Satish Rajagopal (VW Polo R2) (01:33:59.3).