Gill breaks through to win International Rally of Whangarey
The opening round of the 2014 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) saw competitors head south for today’s six remaining special stages – to roads more familiar to Gill, driver of the MRF Tyres ŠKODA Fabia S2000 car.
Starting behind Kopecký for the day of double run stages, Gill was in a closely fought battle for stage honours, until the 32-year-old found advantage on the 27.43km Springfield test. Pulling out a time 25 seconds faster than his rival was all Gill needed to put his MRF Tyres team mate behind him for the run to the finish. Defending the gain second time round, Gill added a further 1.1 seconds to win by a competitive 11.9 seconds after 220.87km of competition.
“We’ve come close to winning here before but every year we’ve had some issue either technical or mechanical,” said the outwardly calm Gill – runner-up in 2013.
“This time it was the best way to win – to come from the back, especially being down by 23 seconds – it was a massive amount of time to make up in this situation.
“The most important thing is it was a level playing field for Kopecký and I. He is the European champion and I’m the defending champion so is good benchmark for me. Plus we had new stages this rally and I had to push really hard – that’s what makes the win so much more exciting for me and the team.”
In the sister MRF Tyres ŠKODA Fabia S2000 car Czech Republic based Kopecký and co-driver Pavel Dresler took consolation in his placing. The first time the 32-year-old has been to New Zealand, it was also his first time in the car and using the Indian manufactured tyre.
“We had a really good fight all weekend so thanks a lot to Gaurav for that because you need to be pushed by an opponent to be able to improve. I don’t have so much experience at these gravel rallies and it being the first time for me to compete so far away from home so we are happy with the result,” he said.
Third, with no significant competition, Australian pairing Mark Pedder and Claire Dowling spent the majority of the event learning the intricacies of their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Fourth and leading two-wheel-drive, Australian Tom Wilde and co-driver Bill Hayes overtook the 4WD Skoda of China’s Jun Xu and Sheng Liu late in the day.
Of the nine that started the international category event eight finished, with female driver Rina Ito leaving the road on the final test in her Honda Civic.
The chasing contingent of New Zealand competitors continued to be plagued by attrition – despite the continued fine autumn weather conditions. The opening round (of six) for the 2014 Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), only 13 of the original 26 finished the journey. A further four in the Top Half Rally Series completed the full event.
Surviving their own catalogue of problems Masterton’s Richard and Sara Mason topped the list in a Subaru STi, finishing comfortably ahead of brother and sister team Matt and Nicole Summerfield in an earlier model Subaru. Rookie Lance Williams from Te Aroha and co-driver Raymond Bennett finished third in their Subaru.
The result puts the Mason’s, current defending champions, atop the NZRC standings.
Kaiapoi’s Marcus van Klink and co-driver Dave Neill topped the 2WD field in his historic category Mazda RX7.
Anthony Jones and Noel Moloney topped the list of local finishers in their Ford Escort.
International teams will now be spending much of the evening cleaning and packing their cars and equipment for shipping to the series second round. Held in five weeks’ time at the Pacific island location of New Caledonia it uses 15 special stages situated between capital city Noumea and the international airport location of Tontoua.