Tidemand in lead after Gill’s retirement in Japan

Obihiro (Japan), Sep 19 (IANS) The much awaited battle between Gaurav Gill and his MRF Tyres teammate Pontus Tidemand of Sweden fizzled out as the Indian ace retired at the end of the day’s first Special Stage with a mechanical problem in the Rally Hokkaido, the fifth and penultimate round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship here on Saturday.

With Gill and his Aussie co-driver Glenn Macneall packing up early in the day, championship leader Tidemand, along with his compatriot and partner Emil Axelsson, secured a sizeable lead which if they nurse to the finish of the event on Sunday evening, will ensure the Swedes the APRC title on debut with a round to spare.

Non-stop rain through the day added to the drama which began to unfold when 33-year old Delhi-based Gill’s Race Torque-prepared Skoda Fabia S2000 suffered a front drive-shaft problem during the transport run from Obihiro to the start of the day’s first Special Stage.

Gill, the 2013 APRC champion, still managed to finish the 4.63 kilometres long Rikubetsu Stage, albeit over a minute behind Tidemand as the car had lost much of its drive leading to his retirement, his second of the season which he highlighted with a win at the New Caledonia Rally, but had a non-finish in Australia.

“I drove to the start of the day’s first Stage and that was when I realized that there was a problem with the car. The front drive-shaft had broken and there was no drive in the car, but I managed to finish the Stage before pulling out.

“Obviously, I am extremely disappointed as I was looking forward to the event and hoping to win to stay in the Championship,” said Gill who was trailing Tidemand by 43 points at the start of the Rally Hokkaido and hence needed all the points to stay in the title race.

In sharp contrast, 24-year old Tidemand, winner of three rounds this season, enjoyed another dream run in his Skoda S2000 despite the driving rain that rendered the conditions treacherous with the gravel surface of the Stages turning slushy and slippery.

“I quite enjoyed the Stages though the conditions were a bit tricky. At some places, the car tended to aquaplane and so I had to be a bit careful. With my team-mate Gill not in the running, my intention is to finish the event. Obviously, I will not be pushing as hard now,” said Tidemand.

The Swede has a healthy lead of four minutes and 48.6 seconds over New Zealand’s Michael Young and Malcolm Read of Cusco Racing who pushed his Subaru Impreza as hard as he could after losing time early in the day due to electrical problems.

The Rally Hokkaido concludes on Sunday when the remaining 10 Special Stages will be run with more rain on the cards.

Provisional classification (after Leg 1): Pontus Tidemand/Emil Axelsson (Team MRF, Skoda Fabia S2000) 1 (1hr, 33mins, 32.9secs); Michael Young/Malcolm Read (Cusco Racing, Subaru Impreza WRX STi) 2 (1:38:21.5).

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