Australia's Chris Atkinson triumphed at the opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) on Sunday as his teammate Gaurav Gill took third place to give Team MRF a double podium finish on the Brother International Rally of Whangarei.
Atkinson and Gill's Skoda Fabia S2000s had been lying first and third following the opening leg of the rally on Saturday and managed to successfully hold off the challenge of Proton's Per-Gunnar Andersson and Alister McRae respectively.
"Feels really good to win in a car that was fast right out of the box," said Atkinson. "We had to take it easy later in the day because we hit our left-rear tyre really hard going over a bank in the corner and it bent the wheel. But the car's strong and the tyre didn't come off the rim so we were able to hang on."
Atkinson's 59.8 second lead to Andersson after the first leg of the 283.28km long event was, however, cut to 28.1 seconds by the end of the final stage. The Swede won three of the second leg's eight stages, set the second fastest stage time thrice and posted the third fastest stage time twice. The former two-time Junior World Rally champion was disappointed at finishing second but admitted that it was the best result he could achieve after losing nearly a minute to Atkinson due to a puncture in the second stage of the rally.
"It's good to finish second I guess," said Andersson. "But unless someone else made a big mistake or had a problem, I didn't really have a chance to win the rally."
A little over two minutes behind Andersson was Gill who was pleased with achieving a podium finish in a car that he had tested just once before driving it competitively. "No complaints whatsoever with third," said Gill. "I was able to learn a little more about the car after the first leg and made some setup changes that really helped today."
Before the rally, Gill had said that he would need to complete two rallies before fully coming to grips with the car. However, following his third place, he felt confident enough to make a re-assessment. "I'll be ready to attack by the next rally," said Gill. "I feel really happy with the car and I look forward to some good results."
Gill's ability to come to grips with the car even impressed defending APRC champion and former World Rally Championship driver Alister McRae who was 33.7 seconds behind the Indian after Saturday's stages but ended over a minute behind by the end of the rally.
"Fourth was pretty much the best we could do today," said McRae. "We did our best to catch Gill but he was driving very well. I also had to use the hard compound tyres because Andersson used the last set of softs that we had but it's unlikely that we could have done any better."
The championship resumes in New Caledonia on 28 April. Chris Atkinson won the rally in 2011 when he was driving with Proton and Gill had managed just a seventh place finish when he was behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.