Crocker’s car and Munnar lessons drive Abhilash forward

The distinguished rally driver spoke to Sportstar ahead of the Popular Rally in Kochi.

P. G. Abhilash and Srikanth Gowda, the Indian rally champions who are currently fifth in the Asian Pacific Rally Championship standings, ahead of the Popular Rally in Kochi on Saturday.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

In the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), he drives a Subaru Impreza WRX, which was once used by Australian Cody Crocker, probably the championship’s most successful driver. P.G. Abhilash comes with a certain reputation too when it comes to rallying.

He is a former Raid de Himalaya winner, is the current Indian rally champion and is now placed fifth in the APRC standings in his debut season. “It feels good to drive in the Popular Rally again after so many years, good to come back home,” said Abhilash in a chat with Sportstar minutes before the rally’s ceremonial flag-off at the Marine Drive here on Saturday evening.

“Kerala has had a rich history and a great tradition in rallying, it deserves to be back in the national championship. This rally is a contender for the national championship now and it is a good effort by the organisers to pull a sponsor back into the sport.”

Abhilash, the favourite to win the Popular Rally, feels that the event, which will have its competitive stages at the Malayattoor and Kalady areas on Sunday, will offer the younger generation a closer look at the sport.

Closer look

“Our younger generation has heard about rallying here but it has not experienced it, this event will change the scene. There is a misconception that normal cars are taken for rallying, that is not the scene, this will give the youngsters a chance to have a real look at the real rally cars.”

The Popular Rally, which was a national championship round for nearly ten years earlier, is back on track after an eight-year break and Kochi-based Abhilash is one of the few drivers in the current edition who has driven in the Kerala rally earlier.

“I had competed in the Popular Rally for three consecutive years from 1997 and I won the novices round twice and also finished third in Group N (stock cars) in 1999,” he said as his navigator Srikanth Gowda – a former five-time national champion and once with Lohit Urs under the MRF banner – had a close look at Mitsubishi Evo-8, which Abhilash will be driving in the Kerala event on Sunday.

“Earlier, the Popular Rally’s terrain was in Munnar and with its drops and elevations, you had to be very precise. One foot wrong and you will be off. But then, driving at that level gave you more confidence when you go to the lower plains, you attack corners more confidently. The lessons from Munnar turned out to be very crucial for me.”

Narrow and fast stages

The 27 four-wheelers had a taste of the rally route in today’s recce and Abhilash found two of the three stages narrow and challenging. “The stages are good, a bit narrow but fast. Two of the three stages are narrow and one is very fast, it starts from the Kalady plantations,” he said.

National star Arjun Rao Aroor is one of the drivers who is expected to give Abhilash a tough challenge in the one-day event which will start and finish at the Marine Drive on Sunday. After the Kerala event, Abhilash, who is currently in the second spot in the APRC’s Pacific Cup, will be off to Australia for the international event’s second round which begins in Canberra later this month.

And he will be back in the car which is loaded with rich history. “Cody Crocker won the 2009 APRC in the same Subaru. And then the car went to New Zealand and Ben Hunt won two national championships with the same vehicle. So, this car comes with a certain pedigree,” said Abhilash.

He will be hoping that a big of the magic rubs off on him in the APRC.

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