"Of the nine that started the international category event, eight finished with female driver Rina Ito leaving the road on the final test in her Honda Civic."
Whangarei -, April 13 - India's Gaurav Gill -, driving a Skoda Fabia S2000 for Team MRF, began his FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship - title defence on a strong note as he swept Sunday's six special stages to win the International Rally of Whangarei, defeating overnight leader and teammate Jan Kopecky -.

Starting 23.2 seconds behind European champion Kopecky from the Czech Republic, the 32-year-old Gill stepped up the pace on the 27.43 km Springfield test and made 25 seconds on his teammate.

That was all he needed to get his nose in front and added a further 1.1 seconds to eventually win by 11.9 seconds after 220.87 km of competition.

We've come close to winning here before but every year we've had some issue, either technical or mechanical. This time it was the best way to win. To come from the back, especially being 23 seconds down, it was a massive amount of time to make up in this situation, said Gill, who finished runner-up here in 2013.

The most important thing is it was a level playing field for Kopecky and me. He is the European champion and I'm the defending champion, so is a good benchmark for me. Plus, we had new stages in this rally and I had to push really hard. That's what makes the win so much more exciting for me and the team.

It was Kopecky's first time to New Zealand and also his first time in the car, using the Indian manufactured tyre.

We had a really good fight all weekend, so thanks a lot to Gaurav for that because you need to be pushed by an opponent to be able to improve. I don't have so much experience at these gravel rallies and it being the first time for me to compete so far away from home, so we are happy with the result, Kopecky said.

Third, with no significant competition, Australian pairing Mark Pedder and Claire Dowling spent the majority of the event learning the intricacies of their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.

Of the nine that started the international category event, eight finished with female driver Rina Ito leaving the road on the final test in her Honda Civic.

The next race will be the Rallye de Nouvelle-Calédonie in France May 16-18.


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