Australia’s Chris Atkinson will start this weekend’s fourth round of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship in Malaysia as favourite after dominating the opening events.
Atkinson took victory in New Zealand on the Sunshine Coast, plus was runner-up to his MRF Skoda team-mate Guarav Gill in New Caledonia.
The Queenslander is also the defending champion of the Malaysian Rally, although it was aboard the factory Proton Satria.
Although he has a 38 point lead over his Indian team-mate, Atkinson is fully aware that the Malaysian Rally is traditionally one of the most difficult of the season, with hot and humid weather conditions.
“We’ve had some results in Malaysia in the past, and I’m really looking forward to getting back into the Team MRF Skoda this weekend,” Atkinson said.
“Our start to the year has been almost faultless, and the guys at Race Torque have done an outstanding job in preparing the best cars in the championship.
“The conditions in Malaysia are always tough, but I think our experience of the stages and our MRF tyres will stand us in good stead.
“A one-two finish for Team MRF would be a great result.”
The Australian’s Skoda Fabia S2000 will sport a fresh engine, but aside from that, the cars will run in a similar specification to what they did in Queensland. The team will even forego a pre-event test session, given the cars’ early season form.
“We’re in a really strong championship position, in the Drivers, Teams and Manufacturers’ titles,” said Team MRF manager, Lane Heenan.
“Chris has a good lead, but Guarav showed in Queensland that he has the pace to win on speed alone, and we expect both drivers to be pushing hard this weekend.
“I guess that’s not ideal from a team manager’s point of view, but I’d certainly prefer it that way than having our guys struggling for speed.
The first stage of the Malaysian Rally will be a 2.5 kilometre super special stage on Friday afternoon, before a further 14 stages and 233 competitive kilometres on Saturday and Sunday.