Whangarei (New Zealand), March 30 (IANS) Team MRF drivers Chris Atkinson and Gaurav Gill warmed up for this weekend's Rally of Whangarei by topping the time charts at the official shakedown here Friday.
Atkinson clocked 51.2 seconds over the 1.40 kms course while Gill timed 52.5. Both drivers, competing in Skoda S-2000 cars, will begin their battle for the 2012 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) at this weekend's Brother International Rally of Whangarei.
As many as 47 cars, including nine in APRC category, will be flagged of Saturday. Team MRF's main opposition for the 2012 championship title is likely to come from Proton Motorsports, with last year's series winner, Alister McRae, being joined by Sweden's Per Gunnar Andersson this year. The Proton S-2000 new generation cars could work to the advantage of the Proton team.
'Until I drive a full rally it will be difficult for me to compare with cars I have driven before, but the Skoda S-2000 has won several European rallies. So I am sure it is a great car.
'Obviously, it also depends on the weather and road conditions, but we will be definitely be pushing for a win,' said Atkinson after the shakedown.
Atkinson has driven the Proton S-2000 before and won three rounds last year in the APRC. He has driven on the Asia-Pacific terrains in the past and so is familiar with the diverse tracks of this Championship.
Gill, having driven Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution series cars up until the end of last season, will struggle during the first few rallies as he is not familiar with the left-hand drive car. His timings at the shakedown however proved his ability to adapt to the new car.
'I am not mentally prepared for the Skoda S-2000 as I am not confident with my left-hand driving skills. I will improve after a rally or two. We want to be cautious. The car is awesome,' confided Gill, who will be driving an S-2000 car for the first time.
The Rally of Whangarei will be run across 16 gravel stages covering 283.28 kilometres of fast and smooth rally terrain. The New Zealand round is the first of APRC. The subsequent rounds will be run in New Caledonia, Australia, Malaysia, Japan and China.