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Team MRF begins its defence of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title this weekend, with the running of the International Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand.

Guarav Gill testing the Team MRF Skoda ahead of this weekend's event.India’s Guarav Gill won the title for the second time in 2016, and will be partnered this season by experienced Belgian co-driver Stephane Prevot.

Their team-mates will be Norwegian rookies Ole Christian Veiby and Stig Rune Skjaermoen, who have already impressed this season with two top-five placings in the WRC2 category of the World Rally Championship.

Team MRF will once again run a pair of Race Torque prepared Skoda Fabia R5 rally cars in this year’s championship, which begins in New Zealand and then travels to Australia, China, Malaysia, Japan and India.

“We had a good pre-event test here in New Zealand yesterday, with both drivers completing over 70km in their cars,” Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, said.

“Both Gaurav and Ole Christian played around with the set-up of the Skodas on the slippery North Island roads, but interestingly, both reverted back to pretty much the same set-up that we used on the cars last year.”

Gill won the Rally of Whangarei last year and will be hoping to get his championship off to a similar start this weekend.

He won all six rounds of the championship last year, and will clearly be the driver to catch once more.

For his 20-year old team-mate, Ole Christian Veiby, it will be his debut on all rounds of this year’s series. However, third place in WRC2 on Rally Sweden earlier this year shows he has incredible pace.

“I have some extra butterflies in my stomach ahead of the debut and I honestly don’t know what to expect,” said.

“I don’t know any of my competitors and it’s difficult to say how fast they are. That’s why it will be exciting to see what level they are on.

“I am confident after my results this winter and I know I have a good pace. But it’s not easy to prepare for a rally I know so little about.”

Team boss Lane Heenan is also expecting big things from Veiby.

“We know from his results that he’ll be fast, and Skoda have proven over many years that they only sign fast drivers.

“We’ve hosted drivers of the caliber of Jan Kopecky, Pontus Tidemand and Esapekka Lappi in recent years, and they’ve all proven to be incredibly fast on events that are new to them.

“I see no reason why Ole won’t be just as impressive. But he’ll have a job ahead of him to beat the experienced Gill, so it will be an interesting season.”

The International Rally of Whangarei commences on Friday eventing with two passes of the night time Super Special Stage at Pohe Island.

Leg one continues on Saturday with eight special stages on the fast flowing cambered roads the rally is famous for, while Sundays final leg heads south of Whangarei for a further six stages.

The event entails 275 kilometres of competitive stages, with wet weather predicted over the weekend.

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