Bangalore, Nov 4: After seven seasons of hits and misses, trials and tribulations, Gaurav Gill finally struck the bulls-eye Sunday by annexing the 2013 Asia Pacific Rally Championship, a historic achievement that was long overdue and raised few eyebrows among Rally aficionados.
Over the years, Gill has proved that he is one of the most versatile and natural motorsport drivers the country has ever produced. In 2006, for instance, he nearly achieved a historic double as he won the National Racing championship and was poised to clinch the National Rally title driving for JK Tyre, but finished second in the final round in Goa behind team-mate VR Naren Kumar.
The 2007 season proved a landmark in his career as he left JK ranks and moved MRF Tyres who offered him a drive in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship. Thus began his climb to the top as he went on to win three National Rally titles with the Reds before taking the APRC crown last weekend in China.
While becoming the first Indian ever to win a major international Rally championship, the 31-year-old Gill only underlined his talent and potential that first came to the fore over a decade ago during his days in two-wheeler rallying.
“Give me a choice between a car and a two-wheeler, it will be the bike, of course,” has been Gill’s refrain when asked whether he still enjoyed riding a bike.
It was his dare-devilry on the bike that brought him to the notice of JK Tyre team and when only 18, Gill survived a four-day test session with P-WRC champion Karamjit Singh whose valuable tips were to prove invaluable. In 2000, Gill won his maiden victory in the National championship when he annexed the South India Rally crown that kick-started his career.
With his aggressive style and tremendous car control, Gill won a legion of admirers and fans who were thrilled to bits each time he swung the car sideways in a delightful drift through corners or just raw speed.
Veteran navigator and a multiple National champion Farooq Ahmed said after partnering Gill to victory in the early days: “Gill is a phenomenon and I have no doubts about it. More than just the raw speed, he has a fabulous memory.
“He remembers every corner, every crest and threats such as roadside rocks or culverts after just one reconnaissance run. It is something I have never seen with any other driver I have sat with. I am sure, he has a great future and I rate him one of the best our country has produced.”
For all his obvious talent, Gill had to endure a spell of non-finishes, both at home and abroad a few years ago. It was a difficult period that tested his mental toughness and character as he was exposed to the vicissitudes of rallying. However, marriage and fatherhood seemed to have a positive impact and after coming out of the trough, Gill has not looked back.
With experience, Gill has evolved and matured into a truly World-class rally driver and believes that he is ready to take the next step up and much more than a brief run he had in the 2009 World Rally Championship (production class) with backing from Bangalore-based Sidvin CoreTech.
Switching from the Evos to the super quick and left-hand drive Fabia S2000 last year, Gill demonstrated his dexterity in adjusting to the new car, though the 2012 APRC season was otherwise disastrous after he finished third in New Zealand and won in New Caledonia, but retired in the next four rounds.
“It was tough initially to adjust to left-hand drive and also a car that was super responsive. The S2000 is a brilliant car in terms of speed and handling, but you need to tell it precisely what you want it to do. The margin for error is small, but a great car to drive,” Gill said on his early Skoda experience.
Now that he has won the APRC title, there is little left for Gill to achieve in the Asian arena, and he is only too aware of this. Though there is talk about Gill driving in Europe with the Skoda team, nothing yet has been confirmed.
“I think I am more than ready for the WRC, but again, everything depends on sponsorship,” said Gill recently ahead of his departure to China for the final round of the APRC.
For Gill, another season of APRC that is suffering from ever-dwindling entries and logistical issues makes no sense and it would only delay his entry on to the World stage. However, funding will be critical to Gill taking the big step forward.
Born: Dec 2, 1981, Delhi
Indian National Rally Championship titles: 2007, 2009, 2011.
National Racing Championship titles: 2004, 2006.
Asia-Pacific Rally Championship: Driver’s title in 2013.
Idol: (Late) Colin McRae (1995 World Rally champion).
(Anand Philar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)