Obihiro: Gaurav Gill and his MRF team-mate Pontus Tidemand lit up a damp and cold evening by topping the timesheets in the 960-metre Spectator Special Stage to set the tone and tenor for Rally Hokkaido, the fifth round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, here on Friday.
Gill, the 33-year-old from Delhi, and his Aussie co-driver Glenn Macneall, were the quickest in the afternoon's shakedown test in their Race Torque-prepared Skoda S2000, clocking 38.3 seconds as against 38.8 of Sweden's Tidemand.
However, in the Spectator Special (SSS) Stage run in late evening darkness and rain on the same stretch as the Shakedown test, Tidemand, also in a Skoda S2000 and partnered by compatriot Emil Axelsson, streaked home in 40.2 seconds while Gill did 41 flat, both well clear of New Zealand's Michael Young and Malcolm Read of Cusco Racing's Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
The SSS timings, however, do not count for much as the cars head to the Special Stages, about 101 Kms north of Obihiro on Saturday after the 6 am flag-off while the rains forecast for the weekend will add spice to the proceedings.
Gill, winner here in 2013 en route to becoming the first Indian to win the Asia Pacific championship, hoped to perform well again as he needs all the points he can to reduce the 43-point leeway with Tidemand.
"We have a new engine for this event, and I quite liked the stages which are quite fast and flowing. I expect very high speeds. I am confident of doing well here," said Gill who has consistently averaged over 110 Kmph on some of the Stages in the past.
The Rally-Hokkaido is one of the more punishing rounds in the APRC with as many as 20 Special Stages to be run over 225.35 Kms, apart from the Transport section of 735.92 Kms.
Provisional results (Leg-1):
Pontus Tidemand / Emil Axelsson (Team MRF, Skoda S2000) 1 (40.2secs); Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall (Team MRF, Skoda S2000) 2 (41.0); Michael Young / Malcolm Read (Cusco Racing, Subaru Impreza WRX STi) 3 (42.6).