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Team MRF drivers Gaurav Gill and Esapekka Lappi head into this weekend’s Hokkaido Rally separated by just half a point in the race for the 2013 Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.

The Skoda Fabia S2000 drivers have dominated this year’s series, with victories in three of the four events held so far, although both will be hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of the previous event in Malaysia.

In that event, Finnish star Lappi suffered a blown engine on the first day of the rally, while Indian, Gill, had an altercation with an earth bank, before fighting back into the points on day two.

But both drivers are determined to push towards championship success in Japan, with the Race Torque prepared Skodas clearly the class of the field in 2013.

“We’ve made no changes to the cars at all ahead of the Japanese event,” team manager, Lane Heenan said. “We just need a little bit of luck on our side.

“In Malaysia, Lappi had an unlucky engine failure, while a small pacenoting error in the low speed reconnaissance caught out Gill on day one.

“The plan for Japan is to get both cars to the finish so that the drivers and manufacturers titles are further consolidated.”

Conditions in Japan should suit both drivers, with most of the rally’s stages on public roads. The stages are fast and narrow, with grass and bushes close to the side of the roads, often covering deep ditches and hidden obstacles.

“Coming to grips with the roads shouldn’t be a problem,” Heenan added, “although the deep gravel on the stages will probably see the roads rut up quite badly.

“Lappi hasn’t been here before, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

“I think our biggest job as a team will be to keep the reigns on the drivers and ensure they finish day one – which is the event’s longest at about 170 kilometres.

“They are both very competitive and want to beat each other, but we have to be smart and ensure that the championship is the number one focus.”

Team MRF won’t test the Skoda Fabias before the event, but past trips to Japan should ensure the cars start with a fast set-up.

The Hokkaido Rally will see drivers tackle 18 special stages over a competitive distance of 232.32km, with four runs over the 2.54km Super Special Stage alongside the Satsunai River.

The longest stage of the rally is the 29.11km ‘New Ashoro Long’ stage, which will be run three times.

Twenty-nine Asia-Pacific Rally Championship cars will start the event, which is also round seven of the Japanese Rally Championship.

2013 APRC pointscore after 4 of 6 rounds
Overall drivers:
1 Gaurav Gill 78.5;
2 Esapekka Lappi 78pts;
3 Sanjay Takale 75;
4 Young 66;
5 Hiroshi Asakura 33.

Overall co-drivers:
1 Glenn Macneall 78.5;
2 Janne Ferm 78;
3 Sean Gregory 75;
4 Malcolm Read 38;
5 Daniel Willson 28;

Manufacturers:
1 ŠKODA 120.5;
2 Subaru 114;
3 Mitsubishi 88.5;
4 Toyota 41;
5 Suzuki 24;
6 Proton 21.

Teams’ Trophy
1 Team MRF 156.5 pts;
2 Cusco Racing 122 pts.

Photos courtesy of: APSM TV (Asia Pacific Sports Media and TV)
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