India leg of FIA APRC 2003 flagged off in Mumbai

MUMBAI: A crowd of about 2,000 people that had gathered outside the National Centre of Performing Arts at Nariman Point, Mumbai for the ceremonial flag-off the MRF India Rally 2003, the concluding round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship, was treated to a heady mix of panache and power on Thursday evening.

Screeching tyres and gorgeous cars were in full display this afternoon. The Flag-off ceremony of the fifth and the final round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) 2003 took place in Mumbai.

Preceded by a short but well-choreographed dance act, Armin Kremer and Fred Bressen of Team MRF, the leaders in Group N drove up the ramp in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 and were flagged off by the deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Chhagan Bhujbal, followed by Austrian David Doppelreiter and Ola Floene, also of Team MRF and NewZealanders Geof Argyle and Steve Smith, overall leaders.

A total of 11 foreign cars were followed by 14 cars of the Indian National Rally Championship and were led down Marine Drive in a parade before setting off for Pune, where the rally will be run in and around Panshet, about 40 kms from Pune.

The event at Pune takes place from 5-7 December. The drivers will have to navigate their way through 250 km of dirt track in 13 stages. The rally will start tomorrow at 9 am at the government engineering college in Pune and will end at the monumental "seat of the Peshwas" (Maratha rulers).

At the flag off ceremony Maharashtra Deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal was the guest of honour. He flagged off the first set of APRC cars from the ramp. The drivers were garlanded with flowers. Television hostess Mandira Bedi was the master of ceremonies introducing each driver.

As reported earlier by, the Himachal Rally Association (HRA), Western India Automobile Association (WIAA), Western India Sports Association (WISA) and SportzPR are all involved in organising this event in India. HRA chairman Nazir Hoosein said, " Beginnings are never easy and this has been tougher than most.

After 13 years an international motor sports event is taking place. We had to start from scratch. The infrastructure that was present for the Himalayan Rally was destroyed. In addition the roads in Pune were ruined by the heavy monsoon. However a lot of work has gone into preparing the track."

One of the teams from New Zealand mentioned that the stages were rougher as compared to what they were used to back home. However they found the big friendly crowds invigorating. Another driver from Australia Mark Stacy mentioned that the Indian course was very narrow and tricky. Therefore not getting sidestepped is going to prove a real challenge. In addition to the APRC which has around 10 teams 15 local teams will compete in a round of Indian National Rally Championship (INRC)

Bedi said that the Taj Blue Diamond would serve as the events headquarters. The special F1 fuel had been procured from Japan while spare parts had been gotten from Holland. Star Sports will have a half hour wrap of each day at 3 pm, 10:30 pm on 5 December, 1 pm, 7:30 pm on 6 December and at the same time the next day. On 8 December there will be highlights at 3 pm.

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