Billed as one of the most difficult rallies, the Queensland event lived up to its reputation on the opening day of the APRC rally in the forest stages of Imbil on Saturday.
The course catapulted MRF's Gaurav Gill to the top, but sent local favourite Chris Atkinson packing. Atkinson had held a huge lead of 48 seconds till the eighth stage. However, by the end of the day, Gill had an overall lead of 4.8 seconds over Atkinson's Proton teammate Alister McRae.
It wasn't a good day for Gill's teammate Katsu Taguchi either. Considered one of the top contenders, Taguchi finished overall fifth with a time gap of 3:54.8 seconds.
Gill surged ahead after a submerged rock put paid to Atkinson's hopes. "I hit the rock too hard in the creek," said Atkinson. "The front of my car got damaged. I couldn't speed up and crashed out."
Trailing the Australian by 6.5 seconds after Stage 3, Gill slumped further after McRae clocked the fastest timing in Stage 4, pushing Gill to the third spot. Gill, though, managed to overcome the British challenge and came back to second position after Stage 6.
Stage 8, the longest in the rally (35.08km), was the most crucial stage of the day, for, not only did it topple Atkinson, but also put Gill on top and pushed McRae to second.
Despite being the leader, Gill didn't sound optimistic. "I have a lead of 4.8 seconds, which a car like the Proton could cover easily. I will try my best. My aim is to garner enough points to put the team on top," said Gill. "The course is unpredictable. One stage is too dry, the other too wet. With the sun playing hide and seek, it gets difficult to figure out the track's traction."
Car beats chopper
Imbil, Queensland: Chris Atkinson on Wednesday proved that sometimes even if you fly, it's not possible to beat the superbly tuned rally cars.
The Proton driver beat a Robinson R44 chopper in a unique race, which pitted his car against a helicopter at the Sunair airport hear. "It was fun," said Atkinson. "We had to start, go a certain distance and then come back. I never looked at the chopper. I just sped away.”