Johor Bahru: Gaurav Gill and co-driver Glenn Macneall trailed MRF teammates and leaders Pontus Tidemand and Emil Axelsson by one minute and 19.9 seconds at the end of Leg-1 in the Malaysian Rally which is the fourth round of the Asia-Pacific Championship here on Saturday.
Gill, however, drew consolation from finishing the day on top in the Asia Cup category, enjoying a 11-minute lead over Cusco Racing duo of Genki Takeuchi and co-driver Naoki Kase who were in a Subaru Impreza.
Both Tidemand, who leads the championship, and Gill, the 2013 APRC champion, survived a nightmarish ride through the day's eight Special Stages highlighted by bouts of overtaking between the two as they stopped to remove grass from the front grill which was leading to overheating of the engine.
"I have never seen anything like it in my rallying career. In Special Stage-3, for instance, I had to stop four times to remove grass from the front grill and Pontus did the same twice. So, we overtook each other on the Stage," said the 33-year old Delhi-based Gill who was quickest in three of the eight Stages.
Tidemand, the 24-year old Skoda test driver, and winner of two of the three APRC rounds this season, had to tackle other problems, ranging from dampers, brakes and loss of concentration due to extreme heat and humidity.
"I am happy that I was able to finish the day. To top it, I had a couple of spins which also cost me time. We had to stop thrice in one of the Stages to remove the grass. We had issues with dampers, brakes and lapse of concentration. So, it was a tough day and tomorrow, I just want to survive," said Tidemand, driving in Malaysia for the first time.
Gill, winner here last year, had to also deal with an errant front fender which came off and somehow got entangled in front of the radiator leading to overheating in the post- lunch session.
"It was weird. We had to stop and rip off the fender which was causing overheating. Overall, it was a difficult day and tomorrow, I will be pushing hard, but with shorter Stages and less distance, the lead is too much to make up," said Gill.
Through the day's eight Stages, Tidemand and Gill put on a spectacular show with aggressive driving as the Swede tried to sustain an early lead and the Indian pushing all the way in a bid to narrow the leeway.
With the two MRF team-mates setting such a scorching pace, the rest of the field fell away with a series of retirements leaving only Tidemand and Gill in the running for APRC honours.
Provisional classification (after Leg-1): Asia-Pacific Rally Championship: Pontus Tidemand / Emil Axelsson (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia S2000) 1 (02hrs, 9mins, 21.2secs); Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia S2000) 2 (02:10:41.1).
Asia Cup (Round-1): Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia S2000) 1 (02:10:41.1); Genki Takeuchi / Naoki Kase (Cusco Racing, Subaru Impreza) 2 (02:22:26.9); Hitoshi Takayama / Hideki Takeyabu (Immens Motorsport, Subaru Impreza WRS STi) 3 (02:29:44.4).