Gill set for showdown in Australian rally

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Caloundra (Australia), June 17 (IANS) Just three points separate two Team MRF drivers, India’s Gaurav Gill and Pontus Tidemand of Sweden in the overall standings as they head into this weekend’s International Rally of Queensland.

After the opening two rounds in New Zealand and New Caledonia, Tidemand (co-driver Emil Axelsson), the 2013 Junior World Rally champion, leads Gill (Glenn Macneall) by 70 points to 67.

Competition in the International Rally of Queensland starts in the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Kenilworth at 7.30 a.m. on Saturday. The rally finishes with podium presentations at the competitors’ service park in the Mary Valley Showgrounds in Imbil on Sunday afternoon, after 18 Stages totaling almost 230 km of forest racing.

Both drivers have competed internationally recently, but in vastly different machinery. Tidemand and Axelsson, debuted Skoda’s new Fabia R5 in the Rally of Portugal and finished on the podium in the WRC2 category, while Gill and Sherif won the second round of the Indian Rally Championship driving a diesel-powered SUV.

“It is going to be very tough for me. The terrain is challenging and so is my team-mate who is a regular test driver for Skoda. So, he has more miles in the car under his belt, but I am up to the challenge,” said Gill.

Tidemand, on his first visit to Queensland, said: “Just like the two previous APRC rallies, everything is new to me this time too, even though I’m starting to get used to being in this part of the world – and the time difference.

“So far, we have had great results and it obviously feels good to top the leaderboard, but we are almost half way into the season and the competition gets harder.”

Although he is yet to win in Queensland, 33-year old Gill’s experience of the event could prove decisive in what is expected to be a great battle with his team-mate. He is coming off victory in New Caledonia, and will be aiming to take the championship lead with a win this weekend.

Gill’s Race Torque prepared Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000 will have a new engine fitted for this rally, while both cars will run fresh gearboxes. The team will also run a third car, for New Caledonian driver Jean-Louis Leyraud.

“We’re hoping for a third victory in three events,” team boss Lane Heenan said. “We’ve had a great start to the year, and with previous success in the Rally of Queensland, both Pontus and Gaurav will be confident.

“Pontus has already done over 3,000 km of rallying this year, which is more than Gaurav will do for the entire season, so that should give him an advantage. But it’s also his first time in Queensland.

“Gill’s victory last weekend (Mahindra Adventure Rally of Maharashtra in Nashik) will be good for his confidence, but stepping out of a diesel SUV into a Super 2000 car will take some getting used to.

“Jean-Louis was also fast on his home event, and he’s comfortable and happy in the car, so we’re expecting good things from him as well. If we can have a consistent run over the weekend and get all three cars to the finish, we’ll be happy.”

Team MRF’s main rivals this weekend will come from the Subaru WRX of New Zealand’s Mike Young, and Indonesian Subhan Aksa in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.

Australian driver Mark Pedder will also contest the APRC component of the rally in a 1.6-litre turbo Peugeot 208 Maxi, as will Eli Evans, Tony Sullens and Adrian Coppin, all in Citroen DS3 R3s.

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