"I'm raring to defend my title"- Exclusive Interview with Gaurav Gill, Asia Pacific Rally Champion
The reigning Asia Pacific Rally Champion. That does have a good ring to it, doesn’t it? How does it feel to have broken new ground for Indian Rally drivers?
I’m delighted about being the first ever Indian to win the Asia Pacific Rallying Championship (APRC) and no one can take that away from me. It’s a special feeling and an absolute satisfaction seeing the National Flag raised. Felt really proud!
Having won the APRC, are you looking forward to defending your title this year? How are your preparations going for the same?
Yes, I am raring to defend my title this year. Firstly, I would like to thank MRF and Skoda for their continuous commitment and support. We created history last season but now our focus is squarely on this year. I will be personally working much more closely with the MRF R&D team to ensure we have the best possible tyres this year as well.
These guys are capable of developing tyres to match the best in the world and together we hope to achieve the same like the past years. We will not rest on our laurels and will continue to push to ensure that we are fighting for the title again.
Growing up, who was your inspiration in motor racing? And how did you get interested in Rally racing?
I come from a sporting background. My grandfather was a diving champion for India. However, it was my uncle Dicky Gill who inspired me to take up rallying. My career in motorsports started at a young age as I started racing motorbikes in the National Motocross Championship in 1999. I won my debut event at Cochin.
But on receiving encouragement from my uncle, who himself was a rally driver then, I showed good adaptability to new conditions as I moved to 4-wheels and was soon winning national car rallies, karting championships and endurance races. That is how it all started.
Understanding the terrain is a very important part of rally racing. Do you believe this is where the difference lies between on-track racing and rallying, the unpredictability?
On-track racing and rallying are two very different subjects. You rely more on speed in on-track racing but one requires the ability to drift and control the car at very high speeds in rallying. Also, unlike on-track racing where there are pit crews to help you out when something goes wrong, rallying is more of reliance on one’s own ability to deal with such situations.
Yeah, of course the different terrains that we come across while rallying increase the level of unpredictability and it requires versatility to tackle the challenges that come up during the course of a race.
If you had to choose between Stage rallies and Road rallies, which would you choose? Could you explain the challenges involved in both?
Road rallies also known as TSD (Time, Speed and Distance) are part of the conventional racing set-up where you drive along with the traffic and a lot depends on the car’s reliability, most often through long distances. Navigation skills need to be accurate and perfect in this form.
Stage rallies are based on high speed and are the popular ones. It requires one to race in gravel, ice, snow, desert etc testing the car’s performance and involves a great deal of reliance on driver skills. I enjoy the latter more as it’s a challenge to tackle the unpredictability and of course a lot of skills are involved in this style of driving.
The WRC is the next big challenge ahead. When do you see yourself realistically competing in the WRC (financially, what are the costs involved, a rough estimate) and competition wise, do you think the APRC is at the same level as the WRC?
It is one of the most expensive rallies around and to drive in the World Rally Championship (WRC) is not only an achievement but also an honor. Depending on the teams, sponsors, the budget can be anywhere upward of 10-15 cr annually. The level of competition is the same everywhere as you need to win anywhere you race to come out at the top. But surely a prestige value is always attached to the World Rally Championship (WRC), which is the king of all rallying events.
Although rally racing has been in India since 1988, it has not grown as fast as say F1, both in terms of fan following and interest. Could you give us reasons as to why?
Rallying has a lot more following than F1 in Europe and a huge fan base over the Internet and YouTube. The biggest advantage that Rallying has over any other kind of Motorsport is that if you wish to drive, you too can be a rally driver gunning your old Esteem.
Just slap in a roll cage, add a good suspension and go practice on an empty piece of land or a gravel stretch and see if you can handle the car when it slaps you from the back end. If you can, then just cash in as you have talent! Yes, in India, Rallying is still a growing sport though it has a following in its own way.
When do you see yourself competing in the WRC (financially)?
I’ve been successfully outpacing the WRC drivers in the last 3 years and speed has never been a concern. However, lack of funding is stopping me from participating in the WRC. I have been trying to source funding for my participation for the last couple of months but so far there hasn’t been any good news. Hopefully with God’s blessing and my fans best wishes, some sponsor will come forward to support and I will get the opportunity this year to participate and challenge to win the WRC
Which is the rally race/ stage that you have found the toughest so far in your career? Why?
I find the rally in New Caledonia the most challenging. It is a small French island located in the southwest Pacific Ocean near Australia. There is a special kind of dirt found in this island which is orange in color and is difficult to see through while racing. Also, it gets really hard to control the car when it rains as the surface becomes very slippery.
Sebastien Loeb, a Frenchman won 9 WRCs in a row, while now, Sebatien Ogiver, another Frenchman, is the defending champion. Is What makes the French so special and good at rally racing?
It is not a coincidence that he and Ogier have set the benchmark for rally drivers. Actually Fédération Française du Sport Automobile (French federation of Automobile Sport) has a big supporting hand in that. The federation makes the effort to spot talent and nurture them. They usually fund the drivers and look after their sponsorship so that the drivers can focus only on racing.
The Federation looks after the travelling and all other expenses, as a result of which drivers can concentrate only on driving and focus on their duties without any pressure. Having said that, I would like to mention that the FMSCI (Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India) has also started following this process. However to take the Sport to that level, many more Sponsors are required to lend the support necessary.
How was it taking part in the MRF Formula Challenge recently with Narain Karthikeyan at India’s motorsport capital, Chennai?
It was an invitation from the sponsors and was a one off event. The event helped me in polishing my track driving skills during the off season. Narain is an old friend and is a very competitive guy. He was faster than me on the track as it was his domain, but rallying is a different ball game, different from what I did in Chennai. Rallying requires lot more discipline and is not always about driving fast as one needs to be versatile too.
Your favourite Stage/ Time trial from the one of the Indian Rally Championship stages that could probably work in APRC.
The ones in Chikmagalur and Bangalore definitely match the standards of the APRC and can be given a serious thought about.
Your take on the Formula 1 ban in India.
It is sad that even after having such a world class track (BIC) with such good facilities and infrastructure, the Formula 1 Grand Prix is not going to take place in India. In order to promote the sport in India it is important that stakeholders seriously come forward to encourage the game. Hope the race will return to India next year bringing with it all the thrill and excitement.
A message you have for our readers.
If you don’t crash while drifting in practice, believe me my friends, you have the talent to be a rally driver! But always remember drive responsibly whenever you are behind the wheels. And at best just follow me on social networking sites like Facebook (www.facebook.com/gillracing) and Twitter (@gillracing) to be versed with all the rallying updates.