Championship battle intensifies while Asia Cup beginsThe fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) is set to get underway with drivers from all around the world in Johor Bahru tonight as part of the 2014 Malaysian Rally, which also celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Leading the charge is 2013 European Rally Champion and current APRC points leader, Jan Kopecký from the Czech Republic, in his Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000 who says the biggest challenge at this rally is just to get to the finish.
Kopecký said: “The stages are quite tricky, there is a lot of junctions and very narrow in some parts with deep ditches inside… it can rain a lot and it can be quite a big problem on stages because you don’t see a lot but okay, it’s the same for everyone.
“Our plan is just to come to the finish and drive through the stages safely. But that will be tricky because I’ve never seen these kind of roads before.”
Team MRF team-mate and reigning APRC champion, Gaurav Gill of India, is also set for a big weekend as he chases the championship lead along with scoring important manufacturer and team points.
Currently sitting third in the APRC drivers’ championship, and competing in Malaysia for the first time is Australian driver Mark Pedder in his Pedders Suspension Mitsubishi Evolution X.
“When we began the plan was to focus on the three Pacific region events; New Zealand, New Caledonia and Queensland. If we were going well, and so far we are doing ok, then we were going to look at the second half of the season which focuses more on Asia,” said Pedder.
Pedder is also determined to win the APRC’s production cup title but his main challenger New Zealander Michael Young, who currently leads the production cup standings along with the two-wheel-drive and junior cup championships, won this event last year and aims to replicate last year’s success on the challenging stages.
Young said: “I always love the Malaysian Rally. It can be really tricky, especially with the heat but it’s always a good challenge. Obviously we want to win here again like last year but know that we’ll have to take the steady approach to achieve that. This rally is notorious for catching people out.”
Jun Xu of China is also part of the exciting line up in his Skoda Fabia S2000 and currently sits sixth in the overall championship, ahead of Indian driver Sanjay Takale in his Cusco Racing Subaru Impreza.
Takale, joined by local Malaysian co-driver Sean Gregory, says he considers this rally his ‘home’ event and is always excited by the challenges the rally throws at you.
“I love this rally, for me it’s almost like coming home. I had my first rally experience here in Malaysia so it always holds a special place in my heart. The climate is also like home [India], and so are the roads actually, but if the rain comes, that’s when it becomes really tricky for me as I’m not so familiar with that,” said Takale.
Joining the line-up is former Asia Cup winner, Yuya Sumiyama from Japan along with compatriots Tomohide Hasegawa, Mitsuhiro Kunisawa and Kohei Izuno.
Rounding up the large list of talented international drivers is the 17-time Sri Lankan Rally Champion, Dinesh Deheragoda, who launches his new Ezy Racing campaign as part of the Asia Cup; a three-rally mini-series contested across the APRC Asia rounds in Malaysian, Japan, China and Thailand with only the best three results considered for points.
The rally gets underway shortly at the Angsana Complex in Johor Bahru before heading to the palm oil plantations around Kota Tinggi on Saturday and Sunday.