Veiby wins Malaysian Mud Fight
15 Aug 2017 - Brian Young - APSM

After two rounds and win a piece current APRC champion Gaurav Gill and team-mate Ole Christian Veiby started the third round in Malaysia in their MRF Skoda R5’s with just two points separating them.

Picking a likely winner of this very unique event was difficult, where Gill had the skill and previous experience of the conditions, while Veiby is amazingly quick and talented - but could the young Norwegian adapt his all-out driving style to the slippery plantation tracks?

And if one the MRF drivers should falter, their spot was likely to be taken by Finland’s Jari Ketomaa in the nimble AP4 Mitsubishi Mirage, or even Japan’s Yuya Sumiyama in the Cusco Racing Skoda. Although it was first time in the Skoda, Sumiyama adapted quickly in testing and he was no stranger to Malaysia.

After a night-time stage 1 super-special at Johor Circuit won by Gill, the event moved to the plantations the next day and a 31 kilometre monster stage to really test the crews.

There was action and drama right from the start, with Veiby hitting a tree 2 kilometres into the stage. “There was grass in the middle of the road, all four wheels locked up and I went sideways into a tree – after that I learned a lot!”.

Next to have a problem was Gill who also had an altercation with a tree, however his incident was way more serious as the impact bent the steering and limping to the end of stage cost the Indian driver over 6 minutes, then farther time with road penalties. “I was lucky to get back to refuel and had to do all the repairs myself, get down and dirty under the car”.

Gill’s problems dropped him to 6th overall and promoted Ketomaa into 2nd, with Sumiyama third. New Zealand Mike Young was the best of the Group N cars, 4th in the Cusco Racing Subaru.

With no cool-suit Swedish driver Robert Blomberg was maintaining a good pace in the 2nd of the Mirages, with a 3rd Mirage driven by India’s Sanjay Takale holding 7th.

Takale was lucky to be in the event at all, as his car arrived from Mpart’s Swedish factory only a few days before the event and it was only after a mammoth build by the team that the car actually made the start-line.

Gill’s dramas continued through stages 3 and 4 “A broken alternator meant we had no demister and I went off road as I couldn’t see, then we caught Sumiyama and he didn’t see us behind - I had to give him a little bump to get past”. Nevertheless, by lunch-time service Gill was back up to 4th.

There were problems too for fellow Indian competitor PG Abilash who broke a drive-shaft on his Subaru in Stage 2, then went off on stage 3 loosing lots of time and dropping to the back of the field.

In the afternoon the rain started to fall steadily adding more moisture to the already sodden stages and making the muddy road conditions slippery as ice. Stage 6 proved to be the biggest challenge and where three drivers had problems - Blomberg the first to fall foul of the conditions, stuck in a drain near the start of the stage.

Next to go was Sumiyama who went straight ahead at a junction and into a massive ditch. With the help of the jack and local marshals they managed to get themselves out and continue, but came close to running into lateness. The stages and the ditches also claimed Takale “One wheel went off and it just sucked the car in” said a very dejected Takale.

With the aptly named Fishpond (SS7) cancelled due to flooding the competitors toured back to Johor Circuit for the another run through the super-special and the end of day service. After 150 kilometres of some of the most treacherous roads in the championship there was some very battered and bruised rally cars, as well as exhausted drivers and co-drivers at the end of the day.

Day 2 dawned brighter and out in the more open stages the roads drying, while under the canopy it stayed wet and slippery.

The story of the day was Gill’s charge back through the field starting in 3rd place and over 2 minutes behind Ketomaa – The MRF driver got the gap down to 49 seconds after the first loop of stages. After an all-out attack Gill went into the last stage just 2.9 seconds behind Ketomaa and by the final control Gill had secured second by 19 seconds.

Ketomaa was gracious in defeat, “Gaurav is such a great driver in this event, hats off to him and I did what I could”, while Gill was still rueing his day 1 mistake “this could have been our rally but I’m still learning I guess – we all learn. Of course, we’ve still two rounds to go anything can happen. OC drove well, he has good speed – it’s exciting to be in the championship with him”.

While he had a good lead Veiby didn’t back off on day 2 enjoying the much drier roads and having fun “It feels really good to be here. It has been one of the most tricky rallies I’ve ever done - to win it feels amazing. Today has been very fun. Conditions has been good, it’s been enjoyable”.

Behind the top three and after a mistake free rally came Young, relieved just to make it to the finish after two DNFs in Malaysia in past years. “"Third time lucky - we have had some bad luck here in the past," a content Young said afterwards. “It was good to come here and finish. We had a good time today. Really looking forward to Hokkaido now."

Young’s Cusco Racing team-mate Sumiyama was 5th in the Skoda and after showing some good speed on his ever first event in an R5 left-hand rally car, he’s also looking forward to his home event in Hokkaido Japan.

Leg 2 restarters Takale and Blomberg finished the Rally of Johor 6th and 7th respectively. After the dramas prior to the event Takale was happy to get valuable seat time as he comes to grips with his new car. “Except for one small mistake I’m happy I finished this rally, new car, everything new”.

PG Abhilash PG was the only retirement of the rally, retiring with gearbox failure after SS10.

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