A mix of guile and nifty skill behind the wheel gave Indian Gaurav Gill's hope of a podium finish at the Malaysia leg of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) a thrust at the end of Day One.
With eight stages having been completed among the lush palms of the Tai Tak plantation in Kota Tinggi, the 29-year-old MRF driver will hope that his good form persists in the sapping Johor climate, which received heavy showers the previous night, and challenging terrain.
"Physically, this leg is the most challenging as temperatures inside the car can hit up to 60-65 degrees. The entire rally here is hinged 100 per cent on the weather," said Gill who finished second, a minute and forty seconds behind Proton's Chris Atkinson.
The Delhi driver will be alone in contesting for a podium spot after teammate Katsu Taguchi, the winner of the leg and overall APRC title winner last year, crashed out in the second stage, the 24.49 km Tai Tak pipeline.
The 39-year old Japanese driver went too fast, misjudging his timing on a crest only to get stuck at the bend and virtually eliminated him from a shot at defending his Malaysian crown.
"It's sad to see him being knocked out but I have to keep the team in mind and keep pushing forward," explained Gill and went on to relay that he had decided to adopt a conservative approach while driving his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10.
"The tracks are wet and the tyres have been slipping so we can't just rely on speed."
With regard to the performance of the Proton drivers Atkinson and veteran Alistair McRae who lies third manning the lightweight Satria Neo S2000s, Gill said that this gave them a colossal advantage.
"Their cars are about 300 kgs less than ours and of a different category so they have an advantage when it comes to speed as we saw today. However, I'm satisfied with the way my car handled today although there was a fair amount of understeer which needs to be addressed."
Poised to make a mark in Johor for the second year running, Gill's reliance on tactical superiority will give MRF an edge heading into Day Two.
As his co-driver, Australian Gen MacNeall quipped, "In Malaysia it isn't all about speed. It isn't the fastest driver who wins, but the smartest."