Karna Kadur and Nikhil Pai duo supported by MRF lose third place, in the slushy last stage
Brand VM puts 15 out of 18 cars in APRC fray
India’s Gaurav Gill supported by JK Tyre along with his new co-driver Aniruddha Rangnekar, clinched the Asia Rally Cup, the second qualifying round of the FIA-Asia Pacific Rally Championship which was concurrently run with the 46th South India Rally, the first round of the Blueband Sports FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) organised by MMSC at the Madras International Circuit, that concluded in Irungattukottai on Sunday.
Two of the four Special Stages of the final day were called off following heavy overnight rains which rendered the MIC Track water-logged and virtually unmotorable.
The Delhi-based 41-year-old Gill, who partnered with co-driver Rangnekar for the first time in his career, was in a Subaru Impreza, and pulled all the tricks in his book and dished out a strategic driver that left the Thailand duo of Mana Pornsiricherd and co-driver Thanyaphat Meenil, trail by a mile. The only foreign driver-pair, representing the Toyota Rally Team finished second as they lost a huge lead to Gill on Saturday in the rain-hit Aavisa stage and could not catch up with the three-time APRC winner. Behind them, another Indian pair Amittrajit Ghosh, an ERC winner in his class, and long-time co-driver Ashwin Naik moved up a spot to third when Karna Kadur and Nikhil Pai were forced to retire after stalling in the day’s last Stage which was subsequently cancelled.
Intermittent rains were witnessed from the start. The first Super Special Stage (SSS) was totally dry and dusty but rains had a different plan for the second run. It started drizzling once the APRC lineup began their run and as time went on, it was a gradual transition from no dust to slushy track.
Day 2 was once again dusty in the first run but the second run at the Aavisa Special Stage (SS) was entirely a different surface as 30 minutes of rain had made the terrain slushy, water-logged and slippery while the MMRT track was dry without any rain.
The final day at the MMRT Track Special Stage, had recorded heavy overnight rains and was rendered impossible for the rally drivers to negotiate the sticky terrain. After cancelling the first stage at the track, a time-gap was given and even though the track was unfit, the decision to try and run the final stage was taken and after the first two four-wheel drive cars finished the stage with great difficulty, it was impossible for the two-wheel drive cars to venture out. A few of them, including a Gypsy, did manage to pass but their travails were seen and the organisers decided to call off the final stage. But Aavisa SS was free from rain and both the stages went on as scheduled.
Arjuna Awardee Gaurav Gill, along with first-time co-driver, Aniruddha Rangnekar, set the pace on the opening day. He began his dominance right from the start, where he had developed a lead of 3sec in the twice-run 1.55-Km SSS over Mana (Thanyaphat), while last year winner Karna Kadur and Nikhil Pai supported by MRF took another three seconds to complete the tricky course. A spell of rains at the fag-end of the session added a twist to the proceedings.
The brothers from Kodagu, Suhem Kabeer and Suhan Kabeer were in fourth position with 5-sec further difference. The Kerala pair of Dr Bikku Babu and Milen George finished fifth with one-second further difference while the next two driver pairs were tied with identical timing of 3min 4.500 sec for sixth position. They were the pair of Maninder Singh Prince and Vinay Padmashali and Mohammed Sahil and Eldo Chacko.
The cross-over format here also caught out several competitors who chose the wrong lane, thus adding to the drama. Amittrajit Ghosh and Ashwin Naik took a little longer route, Jahaan Gill and Suraj Keshava Prasad over shot the track and took a longer route and Samrat Yadav and Arvind Dheerendra had completely lost the track and lost a lot of time.
Gill, driving the Subaru with barely any pre-event testing barring a small test-run over 700 metres last night, said: “Everything went according to plan. We wanted to finish at the top of the order today. It was a good shakedown for the car. To be honest, I was still getting used to the car, trying to understand how the tyres and the car are working, and the set-up of the car for my style of driving. As for tomorrow when the real rally begins, we have understood how the field is. Given our experience and the speed, our strategy of course is to finish first.”
For Mana, too, it was almost a fresh outing in the APRC-spec Toyota CH-R car. “I last drove this car six months ago. Today’s Stage was very, very short (about 1.55 Kms). Overall, I was happy with our performance today. For us, it was safety first as we still have two more days of rallying. Today, I didn’t push much, but tomorrow, I will,” he said.
Gaurav Gill driving a four-wheel drive Subaru Impreza without a turbo boost consolidated an overwhelming lead of over 1min 39sec over Mana, while Karna was fighting against all odds, in the second run of Aavisa Special Stage which was water drenched. He was the first to take a start on the very slippery surface and had to let many go past him as his vehicle started giving some trouble. They lost a lot of time and were lucky enough to complete the day. He was about 2min 13sec further behind and was later given the scratch time. The rains affected the top-few cars as the sun came out and the track started drying up for the tail-enders to gain an advantage.
Amittrajit with a further difference of 1min 45sec was in fourth position. Jahaan managed to stick on to fifth position with a further difference of 1min 32sec. Samrat Yadav along with Arvind Dheerendra was fourth fastest. He had to stick to sixth after Day 2 as his Day 1 penalties were too huge.
Gill said: “My car did not have the boost, but my experience of driving APRC and the WRC-2 cars helped of course. These cars are supposed to be highly-powered turbo-charged machines. So, when the turbo is not running at the optimum level, it is difficult to drive these cars. The weather Gods turned everything around. The surface conditions meant even the guys behind made time on me as the track dried up quickly when the sun came out. Also, I had to drive the last 7-8 Kms of the day’s last Stage without brakes. However, we have a good lead and we hope to bring the car back safely tomorrow.”
On the final day Gill along with Rangnekar from Pune had to just bring their Subaru Impreza back safely to take a hard-fought win. And they did it with a total time of 01hr 50min 23sec. Thailand duo of Mana Pornsiricherd and co-driver Thanyapat Meenil, representing the Toyota Rally Team, managed to cut down the time gap by 50sec between him and the winner from Day 2. Finally with a difference of 49-sec he managed to finish in second position.
The pair of Amittrajit Ghosh from Kolkata and Ashwin Naik from Mangaluru driving a Mahindra XUV300 finished in third position with a further difference of 7min 32sec. Jahaan Singh Gill from Chandigarh and Suraj Keshava Prasad from Bengaluru driving a VW Polo from Snap Racing missed the podium with a difference of 2min 20sec. They had to settle for fourth position.
The pair of Samrat Yadav from Chandigarh and Arvind Dheerendra from Bengaluru driving a Maruti Suzuki Gypsy for Team Ammyfied Rallying finished in fifth position with a further difference of 2min 07sec. Himanshu Arora from Chandigarh and Kunal Kashyap from Himachal Pradesh driving a VW Polo also from Ammyfied Rallying finished sixth another 30sec behind.
Karna Kadur and Nikhil Pai who were in third in the provisional list, were finally declared DNF. With this, there were a total of six non finishers in this round including Dhruva Chandrasekhar, L Monish, Dr. Bikku Babu, Maninder Singh Prince and Chetan Shivram. The Only lady driver in the APRC segment, Nikeetaa Takkale from Pune along with Venu Ramesh Kumar from Coimbatore, managed to finish in 11th position. Two young drivers Nikeetaa Takkale and Jahaan Singh Gill were presented with a iPhone 14Pro-max each.
Reflecting on his performance, Gill said: “I am very relieved as it was mentally very taxing weekend. There were niggles with my car that went on forever, and I am happy to bring it back home safely. There were also extreme changes in conditions. One stage (MIC Track) was bone dry and the other (Aavisa) slushy yesterday, and today, it was the other way around when portions of the Track stage were under water. I had a tough time negotiating it, and no surprises that the Stage was later cancelled as there was no way the two-wheel drive cars behind us could have made it.
“As for the new co-driver, Aniruddha worked hard and was good considering it was his first time out with me. I was a bit nervous initially, but we settled down soon. Looking ahead, I will be getting back into the INRC this season and also plan to do the final round of the APRC in Indonesia later this year.”
"With the successful conclusion of the Indian round, which had a record number of 18 entries considering the pandemic situation from the past three years is a morale booster for the upcoming rounds, with Vamcy Merla from VM Sports Foundation coming forward to sponsor 15 entries in APRC and supporting this round was a very encouraging gesture. India has the potential to run two rounds of the APRC calendar, which should become a reality in the coming times," said Vicky Chandhok.
“Staying away from the sport is impossible, hence we have made a comeback to improve the sport and take it to next level. In this regard, we have initiated a few things from this round itself like doubling the cash prize, paying 100 percent entry fee for the participants and, increasing the hospitality facilities during the event. We are not stopping here, we are planning to introduce five drivers from India in this year finale at Indonesia. The selection process is underway with an in-house five-member selection committee. Also I have approached to take-up the APRC Promoter’s role from 2024 season." said Vamcy Merla, founder and director, VM Sports Foundation.