The Asia Pacific Rally Championship round in Obihiro saw some real twists over the day that were no less than the sharp turns the drivers had to negotiate on the rained out gravel road on Saturday.
Placed fourth after the fourth stage, Team MRF's Gaurav Gill jumped to the spot after misfortune struck the three leading drivers on the opening day of the rally.
First, it was Proton's Christopher Atkinson whose run was halted by a technical snag, for which he had to eventually pull out. His teammate Alaistair McRae, too, suffered a puncture. All this came as a boon for MRF as Katsuhiko Taguchi moved to the top spot, followed by teammate Gill.
But there were more twists and turns on Saturday. A delay in the service pit cost Taguchi the lead, as he was docked 30 seconds as penalty, putting Gill in the lead.
But Gill, too, had his share of bad luck as a mechanical failure in his Mitsubishi car resulted in him losing a valuable 50 seconds. The Indian now leads Taguchi by eight, and Atkinson by 44 seconds.
"It was a good day overall, as I'm getting more in sync with the upgraded set-up in the car," said Gill about adjusting to the new R4 kit in the MRF cars. He will be keen to keep up the pace on the final day and capitalise on the lucky lead. Having a knack for near-fatal crashes in his earlier years, Gill would be hoping to keep his cool in bone-chilling conditions.
As for Taguchi, he would set aside his camaraderie and go whole hog on Sunday morning to wrest back the lead.
***The writer’s trip has been sponsored by MRF.