Noumea (New Caledonia): Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall) took a commanding 12-minute lead for the MRF Tyres Rally team after Day 1 of the Rally of New Caledonia, the second round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) here Saturday.
Held in the rugged hills north of Noumea, Gill ran at a steady no-risk pace in an S2000 Skoda Fabia factory-backed car while others, including teammate Esapekka Lappi (Janne Ferm) who retired, fell victim to the extremely demanding roads.
The day that began in bright sunshine saw the weather turning overcast and by late afternoon light rain began to fall, turning the gravel roads slippery.
Gill won the first two stages from Lappi and had built a 12-second lead. However, the Finn champion gained on Gill in the next stage with the Indian losing 30 seconds due to a spin.
The third stage was tight and technical, complete with 12 hairpins. It was on one of these that Gill had a half spin. “It was a silly moment, I could not select gears and lost 30 second getting going again,” said Gill.
The cars serviced and returned to do battle running over the same three high speed tests. On the very stage that Lappi felt most at home because it was wide and fast, he ran wide on a downhill section, hit a rock and tore the right rear suspension from the car.
“It was a mistake, completely my fault and I was not pushing because of the 20-second lead I had over Gill,” said a remorseful Lappi. “The service crew have a big job to fix the car, maybe it will be repaired by tomorrow and I can get some points from the event.”
Meanwhile, four of the other APRC contenders had crashed, all over jumps. It left another Indian Sanjay Takale (Sean Gregory), in a Subaru Impreza, in second place, over 12 minutes behind Gill.
The grin on Takale’s face said it all. “I am getting quicker as I get used to my Subaru but I did not think I would be in second place,” he said.
The event concludes Sunday with a further 113 kms of high speed stages run over the same tests but in the reverse direction.