Auckland (New Zealand), Mar 29 (IANS): Team MRF, with a two-car line-up comprising Indian champion Gaurav Gill (co-driver Glenn Macneall) and fresh recruit Chris Atkinson (Stephane Prevot), both in brand new Skoda Fabia S2000 cars, will begin their quest to regain the Asia Pacific Rally Championship title here this weekend when the Rally of Wangharei will be held.
Queenslander Atkinson and Delhi-based Gill, in the Race Torque-prepared cars, are determined to push for victory against last year's championship-winning Proton team.
Perth-based Race Torque, who have run Group N Mitsubishi Lancers in recent seasons, have taken delivery of the Czech-built Skodas with both drivers eager to get behind the wheel for the first time.
"I'm really looking forward to working with the guys at Race Torque and driving the Skoda in New Zealand," Atkinson said soon after his return to the World Rally Championship in Mexico.
"So far, I have only driven the Proton in the Super 2000 class, so it will be interesting to hop into the Skoda and see how it compares. I was speaking to Sebastien Ogier about the car when I was in Mexico and he was saying it's a fantastic car to drive.
"Until I drive it, it's hard to compare it against what I've driven before, but it's won the IRC series and a lot of rallies in Europe, so I'm sure it's a great car.
"The team will have a pretty good idea on set-up for New Zealand, so the performance won't be miles away," said Atkinson who replaces 2010 champion Katsu Taguchi with MRF switching from Mitsubishi Lancer to the Skoda this season.
"Winning in Whangarei was the highlight of the championship for Stephane (Prevot) and I last year. To drive on the old WRC stages is a real thrill, and in the Super 2000 car it's just amazing," Atkinson said.
Gill and his Kiwi co-driver Macneall, will receive equal number one status in Team MRF, with both crews pushing hard to start the year with maximum points.
Team MRF's biggest opposition for the 2012 championship title is likely to come from Proton Motorsports, with last year's series winner, Alister McRae, being joined by Sweden's Per Gunnar Andersson this year.
Malaysian veteran, Karamjit Singh, heads a three-car Proton assault from the Cusco Rally Team that is also likely to challenge for podium placings.
"The 2012 season has been a long time in the planning, but we're extremely excited about getting to the first event and putting the new Skodas to the test," Race Torque managing directing, Lane Heenan, said.
"The Skoda is one of the most competitive cars in the Super 2000 category, and I know both drivers are eager to get behind the wheel to see how fast the cars really are.
"We've had some shipping delays in getting the cars to New Zealand, but with drivers of the calibre of Chris and Gaurav, that shouldn't be a problem."
Team MRF are three-time APRC champions, having taken the title with Germany's Armin Kremer (2003), Finland's Jussi Valimaki (2005) and Japan's Katsu Taguchi in 2010.