'Thank you for your support' and 'Keep up' read the stickers on Team MRF driver Katsuhiko Taguchi's Race-Torque prepared Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10. The 39-year-old Japanese is all set to defend his Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) title come Saturday and along with Indian driver Gaurav Gill as the other half of the two-car team, will look to repeat the one-two finish for MRF like last year.
"The earthquake destroyed my country. The stickers, designed by artwork specialist Osamu Yoda, are just me doing my bit and if I win, it will be a dedication to Japan," said Taguchi who edged Gill by just three points last year.
Gill would have been the first Indian to clinch the APRC title but was unable to finish the leg in China where it mattered most. The 29-year-old, however, appeared cautiously optimistic about his chances.
"I am confident as I know the track well here but after that disappointing leg in China, I am paying no heed to the pressure and just hoping to give it my best shot," explained the rueful Delhiite who will have Australian Glenn MacNeal onboard as co-driver once again.
The verdant plantations of Kota Tinggi in north-east Johor will host a bulk of the 233.76 km 15-stage rally, the longest being the 32.30 km Tai Tak HQ stage, and will see 35 drivers (17 APRC drivers and 18 local drivers) battling it out in unpredictable weather.
Malaysia's southern-most city has seen temperatures wavering between the mid-to-high 30s during the day with showers in the early evening.
"The rain will make it tricky and negotiating the track becomes more difficult but it will just as difficult for everyone else," said Gill who finished third at the end of Friday's Super Special Stage, just 0.6 seconds behind winner Rifat Sungkar from Indonesia of Pertamina Cusco Racing and British driver Alister McRae.
Asked how the Evos measure up against the Proton Satria Neo S2000s, which will be driven by World Rally Championship drivers Chris Atkinson and McRae, Taguchi said, "These are proper race cars while our Mitsubishis are production cars. They will have the advantage when it comes to speed but the improved suspension and handling should help Gaurav and me."