Pontus Tidemand was crowned as the 2015 Asia Pacific Rally Champion after India’s Gaurav Gill retired with mechanical gremlins in Rally Hokkaido last weekend.
Despite Gill's retirement, Tidemand's victory ensured MRF sealed the teams’ crown, with car partners Skoda taking top honours in the manufacturer’s championship.
Gill trailed Tidemend by 43 points heading into this weekend and had hoped for a faultless drive to keep himself in the hunt for the title.
Tidemand and Gill led the way on Friday shakedown before Saturday's flag-off, the Swede just edging the Indian, who had a new engine for the event. Michael Young driving the Subaru Impreza WRX STi slotted in in third place.
Leg 1: Healthy lead for Tidemand, Gill retires
The rain-sodden Rally Hokkaido began inauspiciously for Gill and Australian co-driver Glenn Macneall as their Skoda Fabia S2000 encountered a front driveshaft problem en route to the first stage.
Although the Indian managed to finish the stage, a minute behind Tidemand, the issue proved terminal, forcing Gill to retire from the penultimate round of the championship.
This was his second DNF of the season and one that killed any chances of him securing a second APRC crown.
“I drove to the start of the day’s first stage and that was when I realized that there was a problem with the car,’’ a disenchanted Gill said after the day.
“The front drive-shaft had broken and there was no drive in the car, but I managed to finish the stage before pulling out.
“Obviously, I am extremely disappointed as I was looking forward to the event and hoping to win to stay in the championship.”
Gill’s retirement allowed Tidemand and co-driver Emil Axelsson to build a sizeable advantage up front, as the Swedish duo ended the leg 4m48.600s ahead of New Zealand’s Young and co-driver Malcolm Read of Cusco Racing.
Leg 2: Unstoppable Tidemand takes dominant win
Tidemand looked unstoppable through the 10 special stages of leg two, eventually taking his fourth win of the season by over 12 minutes from Young and Hitoshi Takayama of Immens Motorsport.
The result took his tally to 186 points, enough to seal the title with one round still remaining. Tidemand’s triumph meant MRF and Skoda continue their stranglehold in the APRC championship.
“It would have been great had Gill been around to fight for it. It was unfortunate that he had to retire, but that is motorsport,’’ said Tidemand.
“However, I am extremely happy to win the championship on debut and I would like to thank the team members, MRF Tyres and others who have been part of my success.
“When I decided to race in the APRC, I did not know anything about the conditions or the competition, but I enjoyed all the rallies, though I would have liked the fight with Gill to extend to the last round in China.”
The China Rally will conclude the 2015 edition of APRC, running from October 30 to November 1.