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Team MRF drivers Esapekka Lappi (pictured) and Gaurav Gill head into this weekend’s Rally New Caledonia intent on building on their successful start to the 2013 Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).

At the season opener in New Zealand last month, Finland’s Lappi took a brilliant debut APRC win over two tough days of competition.

The Race Torque-prepared, Team MRF Skoda Fabia S2000s were the class of the field, with Indian driver, Gill, finishing a clear second to set up the team’s championship assault perfectly.

On paper, another 1-2 result could be on the cards for Team MRF, but changes to this year’s Rally New Caledonia course will make finishing the event a real challenge on stages that are likely to be rough and rugged.

The rally will be run over a competitive distance of 241 kilometres, but only six different tests make up the event’s special stages.

Three different stages will be used six times, with three passes in each direction. It will be a huge challenge, and one that could favour Gill, given his experience of the New Caledonian conditions.

“We won the rally in 2012 and I am looking to repeating that feat,” Gill said.

“I gained valuable experience in New Zealand, however, all but one of the stages in New Caledonia are new this year.

“New Caledonia is a very unique rally, as the conditions can change at any time. For example, it can start to rain while the sun is still shining. If this happens, it can become incredibly slippery," he added.

Team MRF boss, Lane Heenan, knows that victory in New Caledonia won’t come easy, and that reliability of the team’s Skoda Fabia S2000s will play a critical role in ensuring the team maintains their championship lead.

“With the stages being used multiple times, we expect the roads to cut up quite badly, which means the strength of the car will be the key,” Heenan said.

“We’re confident that in the Skoda we have the best car for the job, and that we can come away from this weekend with another victory.”

With the absence of the Proton factory team so far this season, Team MRF’s Skodas will see their toughest competition come from Australian driver, Matt Van Tuinen, in a Subaru Impreza. Fellow Australians Simon Knowles and Bruce Fullerton and New Zealand veteran, Brian Green, all in Mitsubishis, will also be pushing hard.

After a ceremonial start in Noumea’s city centre, the rally will run on Saturday and Sunday, with the longest stage being the 17.14 kilometre Shell Paita test. Most of the stages being used this year are new, having never been used on Rally New Caledonia.

Asia-Pacific Rally Championship pointscore after round 1
1. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm, Skoda Fabia S2000, 39 pts
2. Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall, Skoda Fabia S2000, 30 pts
3. Michael Young / Daniel Willson, Toyota Vitz RS, 24 pts
4. Sanjay Takle / Sean Gregory, Subaru Impreza WRX, 19 pts
5. Hiroshi Asakura / Takumi Takahashi, Subaru Impreza WRX, 5 pts

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