Bringing into play his vast experience, Gaurav Gill (co-driver Aniruddha Rangnekar) survived tricky conditions following a spell of rain to consolidate his overall lead in the FIA-Asia Pacific Rally Championship (Asia RallyCup) that is being run concurrently with the 46th South India Rally, the opening round of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) Indian National Rally Championship 2023, here on Saturday.
The afternoon showers caught out a host of competitors, notably overnight Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) leader Bengaluru-based reigning National champion Karna Kadur (Nikhil Pai) who dropped down the order while Mangaluru's Aroor Arjun Rao (Satish Rajagopal)moved into the lead, albeit just a few seconds ahead of Delhi's Philippos Matthai (PV Srinivasa Murthy).
In the Asia Rally Cup competition, Gill, driving a four-wheel drive Subaru Impreza without a turbo boost, led Thailand's Mana Pornsiricherd Mana (Thanyaphat Meenil) who had to deal with mechanical issues, by one minute, 39 seconds, with Kadur a distant third. The rains affected the top few cars as the Aavisa Stage surface turned slushy and slippery. Like Kadur, piloting a Volkswagen Polo, Gill lost time battling the conditions as the duo was among the first out on the Stage which saw several cars stuck in the slush.
Three-times APRC champion 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."
For 39-year old Aroor Arjun Rao, who was lying third Overall going into the day's last stage, it was a total transformation in his fortunes, having last won an INRC event seven years ago. "Frankly, I am overwhelmed as it has been a long time since I am leading after Day-1. We drove with good rhythm and were lying third Overall in INRC with two more Stages to be run. The rains made the surface very slippery, and we lost time to those behind us. However, in the last stage of the day, I drove very well to make time on others and finish the day Overall first in INRC. I just hope it does not rain tomorrow," said Rao.
After the dramatic turnaround today, Kadur was crestfallen. "I am disappointed with the weather which played spoilsport. We got stuck in the slush in the Aavisa stage after the rains. Being the first car out, I had to deal with all the water puddles and the slush, not even knowing whether I can make the corner! Tomorrow, I am not sure, but it is going to be an uphill task to make up lost time," he said.
The three-day event, organised by the Madras Motor Sports Club, will conclude on Sunday when the two Stages, Aavisa and MIC Track, will be run twice each in the reverse direction.
Partial Unofficial classification (after Leg-1):APRC: 1. Gaurav Gill / Aniruddha Rangnekar (India) (01hr, 03mins, 04.0secs); 2.Pornsiricherd Mana / Thanyaphat Meenil (Thailand) (01:04:43.2); 3. Karna Kadur /Nikhil Pai (India) (01:06:56.1).
INRC: 1. Aroor Arjun Rao / Satish Rajagopal (01:05:47.7); 2. Philippos Matthai / PVSrinivasa Murthy (01:05:52.9); 3. Karna Kadur / Nikhil Pai (India) (01:06:56.1).
INRC-2: 1. Philippos Matthai / PV Srinivasa Murthy (01:05:52.9); 2. Sahil Khanna /Harish KN Gowda (01:09:35.3); 3. Chetan Shivram / Dilip Sharan (01:08.58.7).
INRC-3: 1. Sheshank Jamwal / Aseem Sharma (01:07:22.7); 2. Daraius Shroff /Shahid Salman (01:07:25.6); 3. Vishakh Balachandran / Anil Abbas (01:08:16.9).
INRC-4: 1. Abhin Rai / D Uday Kumar (01:12:02.7); 2. Dheeraj KV / Pramod Rajan(01:13:24.9); 3. Renuka Gajendran / Angela James (01:28.55.5).
Junior INRC: Arnav Pratap Singh / Arjun SSB (01:08:22.6); 2. Arjun Rajeev / RohithGowda (01:09:10.1); 3. Jahan Singh Gill / Sujraj Keshava (01:10:28.0).
Ladies: 1. Pragathi Gowda / Trisha Alonkar (01:08:58.6); 2. Renuka Gajendran /Angela James (01:28:55.5). (ANI)