News Items

Interview: WRC drivers Lappi and Makinen – “Competing in the APRC was a big help”.
5 Jan 2018   by Brian Young - Asia Pacific Sports Media (APSM)

Former APRC and MRF Skoda driver Esapekka Lappi got his WRC career off to an epic start by winning his home event the Rally of Finland for the new Toyota Gazoo Rally Team.

At the final round of the 2017 World Rally Championship, held in Coff's Harbour Australia Lappi talked about how competing in the 2013 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) helped him in the early stages of his rally career “First of all it was a big help to get used to the time difference, to learn how to recover as fast as possible and the second was the surface - every event was on gravel but the surface was different in every rally. And this event in Australia, we did one event in Queensland and OK its different but it helps, I think it’s a good series for sure.

Lappi’s team boss is Tommi Makinen, a four-times World Rally Champion. Makinen competed in the 1995 and ’96 APRC for the works supported Mitsubishi team and has good memories of competing in the APRC.

The Finnish driver is confident the experience he gained was instrumental in building him into a complete driver “I remember 1995 when I started my career for Mitsubishi it was a really big help for me as we did all Asia-Pacific rounds. In 1996 when I won my first (World) title, competing in the APRC that same year was a big help".

In his new role as team principal for the Japanese Toyota Gazoo Rally Team, Makinen finds those earlier years of competition a great source of information. “it certainly helps when we are competing in these regions to have an idea of what you need and what the conditions are going to be like, especially when we are not able to do any testing in any events outside Europe. Australia is an important market for Toyota and of course it would be good to have more (WRC) events in Asia and of Japan would be one of those”.

Makinen feels that competing in the APRC has really benefited Lappi “Rallying is really difficult when you are fighting to go fastest, you need to understand every little detail, how to drive in different conditions and handle the different grip, so many different elements. If you know it and familiar with it already, it’s a big help".

The expectations and pressure on WRC drivers is huge and Lappi is comfortable knowing that Makinen with all his own driving experience , is of huge benefit “He really respects and listens to his drivers. For sure he knows what it is like to be our position and he know what he can say to us and what he can’t say’.

A few weeks after Rally Australia Lappi was in Japan entertaining the crowds with WRC Yaris at the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival, an event held each year at Fuji Race Circuit. Japan is pushing for a 2019 WRC date and where Fuji Circuit could be the central service-park. Toyota is understood to be pushing hard for the event and wants it to get a calendar slot ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

2017 APRC - A Tight Fight for the Championship
2 Jan 2018   by Brian Young - APSM

As we head into 2018 and the APRC’s 30th anniversary (1988 – 2018), here’s a quick look back at the highlights from 2017 FIA APRC.

The battle through the season between MRF Skoda team-mates Gaurav Gill (India) and Ole Christian Veiby (Norway) would have to be one of the best in years, while they didn’t have it all their own way with Jarri Ketomaa (Finland) always a threat in his Mitsubishi Mirage.

Ketomaa’s MPart team-mate Robert Blomberg (Sweden) drove consistently to finish 3rd in the points while PG Abilash (India) was 5th and won the APRC Production Cup.

Several drivers chose to do selected events including Fuyuhiko Takahashi (Japan) who shared the APRC 2 Pacific Cup win with Abilash, Yuya Sumiyama (Japan) who debuted Cusco’s R5 Skoda Fabia at Malaysia and Japan, Mike Young (New Zealand) who drove four different cars through the season including a development R2 Volkswagen Polo in India and Sanjay Takale (India) who took delivery of his new Mitsubishi Mirage in Malaysia.

The diversity of driver nationalities in 2017 was great to see with competitors from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand and the increasing interest from India with 3 representatives.

Gill takes APRC title in India
27 Nov 2017   by Event Release

India’s Gaurav Gill came up with another mature drive to retain the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship title, his third since 2013, as he led another 1-2 Team MRF sweep in the Coffee Day India Rally 2017 ahead of team-mate Ole Christian Veiby from Norway by 17 minutes, 38.4 seconds.

Going into the Coffee Day India Rally,  which doubled up as the fifth and concluding round of the 2017 APRC, 35-year old Gill and co-driver Stephane Prevot of Belgium led Veiby (Stig Rune Skjarmoen) by six points with both requiring a win to clinch the title.

With the 21-year old Norwegian suffering mechanical problems yesterday and losing time, Gill cruised to another fine win. The victory was worth 38 points which took Gill’s tally to 174 while Veiby finished on 160.

While the Indian ace won three of the five rounds, Veiby triumphed in the other two as MRF Tyres bag team championship while Skoda yet again took the manufacturer’s trophy. It was also Gill’s 17th win in APRC since his debut in 2008. Enjoying a commanding 15-minute lead overnight, Gill did not feel the need to push hard and yet he won one of the day’s four Special Stages while Veiby continued his charge to move from third to the second spot.

Meanwhile, Abhilash PG, having completed all the Stages in third place today, retired during the transport run due to mechanical problems to the finish fourth, thus promoting Sri Lankan Shafraz Junaid (Akhry Ameer) to third.

Reflecting on his victory and the third APRC title, Gill said: “Obviously, I am extremely pleased to win such a hard-fought championship. My satisfaction lies in the fact that I beat my team-mate OC (Veiby) who is a World Championship driver and even won the round in Poland. More importantly, this victory is for Indian motorsport and it showed that India is capable of competing with the best talent in the World.

“For me personally, it satisfying to win three APRC titles despite the fact that I get to drive just five or six rounds in a year and not as much seat time in the rally car as my team-mate. OC, for instance, is a factory test driver for Skoda and also participates in the World Championship besides other rallies. So, for me to beat him despite the odds I face, is especially satisfying. “Looking ahead, I think I have done enough to show that I have the pace and ability to compete at the World-level as my first APRC title in 2013 was against my then team-mate Esapekka Lappi from Finland who today is a regular in the World championship with several wins. At the moment, I accept what is on offer without thinking too much about what is in store for me in my rallying career.”

For APRC debutant Veiby, it was disappointing outing here and felt that he could have done much better than finishing second in the championship, but said he benefitted by competing against Gill. “Yeah, for sure, I could have had better results on my debut in APRC this year. I had mechanical issues with my car in three of the five rounds. However, it was fun competing with Gaurav and I think I learnt a lot. Overall, it was a great experience, driving in different conditions, terrain and countries,” said Veiby.

Provisional results: APRC:
1. Gaurav Gill / Stephane Prevot (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia R5) (03hrs, 20mins, 19.8secs);
2. Ole Christian Veiby / Stig Rune Skjarmoen (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia R5) (03:37:58.2);
3. Shafraz Junaid / Akhry (Volkswagen Polo) (04:10:17.4).

Third title beckons for Gill
26 Nov 2017   by Brian Young - APSM

Is the battle for the APRC drivers championship over??

After such a big build-up to what should have been a classic battle between the MRF Skoda team-mates at Coffee Day India Rally, Norway’s Ole Christian Veiby unfortunately had a major transmission problem on Stage 2.

“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".

With only rear-wheel drive Veiby limped through the next 6 stages making it back to mid-day service where the Racetorque and Skoda mechanics did an amazing job changing the transmission, clutch, air-filter box and renewed a front corner suspension - all in the 20-minute service!!

With a 16-minute deficit to his team-mate Gaurav Gill, Veiby may have to settle for second and that’s not enough to win the APRC drivers’ championship.

Current champion Gill was looking forward to the battle with his team-mate, however the Indian driver has been around rallying long enough to know nothing is for certain until the finish-line and the twisty plantation roads have their own challenges “Its unbelievably slippery, like driving on ball-bearings, absolutely unbelievable” said Gill at the finish of the morning loop.

After a very promising start the New Zealand crew of Mike Young and Malcolm Read are out of the Coffee Day India Rally early after their 2WD Volkswagen Polo developed a fuel leak at the end of stage 5. At the time they were in 2nd place and with the team currently working on replacing the fuel tank, plan to restart tomorrow.

Benefitting from the mayhem in front is Indian driver PG Abilash. The Subaru driver started his APRC campaign in New Zealand and made a solid start to his championship finishing 5th overall, followed by 6th in Australia. Abilash’s focus all year has been on his home event and after day one he is sitting in 2nd, however only 4 minutes behind is Veiby who’s hoping to snatch his 2nd spot.

Day 2 comprises 4 stages and 64 kilometres with the finish back in Chikkamagaluru at 3.00pm.

Title Fight in India
23 Nov 2017   by Brian Young - APSMtv

It comes down to the wire, two drivers with equal cars and equal chances - its winner takes all! The 2017 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship will be decided at this weekend’s final round, the Coffee Day India Rally.

And it’s perfectly poised with local hero and currently APRC champion Gaurav Gill, having to fight all season with his young team-mate Ole Christian Veiby from Norway. Both MRF Skoda drivers come into the event with various advantages.

Gill on home soil will have a multitude of local fans to cheer him on and of course he knows the twisting mountain stages like the back of his hand. Veiby with no experience of the stages or even life in India is fresh from recent rounds of the World Rally Championship – he’s had plenty of ‘seat-time’ and as an official Skoda driver is very familiar with the Fabia R5.

It’s all set then for a classic battle.

“It has gone down to the wire, which is very exciting. I’m not here to finish second; I’m here to win. I have driven in this rally a few times before, so it is a bit of an advantage. But the stages have changed over time. It used to be very narrow, and now it is much wider,” Gill said, at the rally’s media conference held in Bangalore on Tuesday.

Veiby, from Norway, explained, “I have to attack in every stage. It is going to be a hard fight between Gill and I. I will be competing in the Coffee Day India rally for the first time. “Actually this is my first time in India, so everything is new. I’ve never seen traffic like this ever before. Before we talk about my plans for the rally, let’s see if I can handle this traffic first.”

India’s PG Abhilash of Team PGA Motorsports and currently leading the APRC production class will start in 3rd place driving a Subaru Impreza WRX Sti. After retirement in Malaysia his team have been working on repairing his gearbox and rear diff.

Next up is New Zealander Mike Young fresh from victory in the 2WD class at last weekend’s WRC Rally Australia driving a Citroen DS3. Young switches to a locally run Volkswagen Polo for India with support from Dunlop, Motul and Volkswagen Motorsport India.

“I drove here last year in a Group N Subaru Impreza that’s a very heavy and large car, whereas the Polo will be lighter and more nimble on these extremely tight plantation roads”.

Next on the road is US-based Sumit Panjabi (SNAP Racing) piloting a Mitsubishi Evo VII, followed by Sri Lankan driver Sharfaz Junaid also in a Volkswagen Polo.

The 2017 Coffee Day Rally of India runs over 17 special stages totalling 225.42 kilometres on small, tough gravel roads on the coffee plantations around Chikmagalur in the southwest of India (250 km west of Bangalore).

The rally starts on the afternoon of Friday (24 November) at the Amber Valley residential school with a spectacular show stage, witnessed by ten thousands of enthusiastic rally fans last year. The winner of the Coffee Day Rally of India will cross the finish line on Sunday around 15h00 local time at the podium on the grounds of Coffee Day Global at Chikmagalur.

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