The 2018 FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship has suffered a major blow before the first event for the season has even run, with news that Team MRF will not campaign their Skoda Fabia R5s.
Instead, the Indian tyre manufacturer will enter a number of events in the World Rally Championship's WRC2 series, with three-time champion, Gaurav Gill. Team MRF has won nine APRC titles, including the last six.
MRF tyres are not currently registered for the WRC events. Gill will use MRF tyres on his car, but won't be eligible to score WRC2 points, and will enter events as a non-priority driver.
Plans are already underway for MRF Tyres to become a registered WRC tyre supplier from 2019 onwards.
At this stage it is not known whether Gill will continue in a Skoda R5, or whether he will appear in one of the other R5 cars, which could include the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20 or Citroen C3.
Gaurav Gill will contest several rounds of the 2018 WRC2 championship with backing from MRF Tyres. Photo: Peter Whitten
The team, car and the events will be announced shortly, according to a source within MRF.
“The idea of Gill entering WRC2 is not to upset APRC. APRC is a great championship and it’s a breeding ground for most of the WRC drivers past and present,” the source told RallySport Magazine.
“MRF Tyres is a global brand with tyres sold in many European, South American and Asia Pacific countries. So it’s a logical move to get into WRC2 to showcase the product and performance.
“After being in APRC for 16 years, it’s the right time for MRF Tyres to move in global arena.
“2018 is just the testing and experience year for Gill, who will continue to be supported by MRF Tyres.”
Team MRF's withdrawal from the APRC means that the Japan's Cusco Racing team will be the major player in the championship.
The first round of the APRC is the Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand in three weeks’ time.
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