Pune: Once a flourishing championship, the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), has run into an uncertain terrain with no Indian in the fray and specially after the team with deep pockets, MRF-Skoda, decided to stay out for the 2018 season that began last week in New Zealand.
The absence of Gaurav Gill—the poster boy of APRC with three Championship titles won in 2013, 2016 and 2017—the opening round almost went unnoticed as the only other entry from India, PG Abhilash, also pulled out leaving only the drivers from New Zealand and one from Japan to compete on the white sands of Whangarei.
Pune’s international rally driver Sanjay Takale, the 2013 APRC Production Cup champion, early in the season had decided to give a miss to the regional event owing to his preparations of the World Rally Championship debut.
Given that India is slated to host the final round of the six-leg APRC, the absence of Indian drivers does not augur well for the championship that is controlled by the New Zealanders.
The championship had been a sought after destination for many European drivers who aim to make it to WRC as the Asia-Pacific region offered varied terrain—from gravel to sand and tarmac to the slippery plains.
A change in the MRF strategy happened last December when Gill won his third title and MRF-Skoda team clinched the championship for yet another year as the tyre company, which successfully got its gravel tyres homologated from the world motorsports governing body, FIA, wanted to graduate to the WRC.
But things moved at slow pace on the WRC front and by the time it was finalised, the deadline for registration was long over.
Having achieved the ultimate aim of aligning the quality of tyres with FIA, MRF finally has decided to enter Gill into WRC, but would get entry only as a non-priority driver. Consequently, MRF is expected to compete in only four gravel WRC rounds.