Happy to rally, Formula One doesn’t excite Gaurav Gill

  • Siddhartha Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 15, 2016 18:05 IST
Gaurav Gill blasting through a corner during the test session ahead of the International Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand in April 2016.

Gaurav Gill won the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) in 2013, but slipped to second in 2014 and third last year. This season, he is back on track, and leads after three races with 107 points. If Gill manages to hold on in the next three races, he could add another title to his cabinet.

Last week, Gill competed in China, and won the APRC class to extend his lead in the championship. Austrian driver Manfred Stohl was the overall winner though after Gill lost time over a tyre change in the Gobi Desert (Mongolia).

“It was a difficult race,” said Gill. “We were driving at an average pace of 135kmph-plus. In such difficult terrain, you need to decide quickly how to manoeuvre through river beds and one wrong move can end in a bad crash. You see mirages in the desert in 47 degrees which might deceive you. It was awesome.”

Favourite round

The next leg of the championship is scheduled in Japan from September 24-25. The circuit is known to support speeds of over 200kmph and is Gill’s favourite. But his real test will come in Malaysia. “The in-cabin temperature rises to 60 degrees because our cars have fibre windows that trap a lot of heat. The rally takes place around rubber plantations where there are no cross winds and humidity is 100 per cent. The average speed is 75kmph, so it becomes really hot inside,” said Gill.

He holds a seed ‘A’ licence, which means he can drive the best cars on the world circuit. He drove in the World Championship once but the lack of sponsors meant he had to be content in the APRC.

“I am asked why I don’t move to the world stage. I say because the problem is generating funds. I beat the best of drivers but I can’t go alone. The Europeans dominate the circuit because they have sponsors to endorse their campaigns. I am thankful to MRF’s support and happy to be performing well in the APRC,” he said.

Focus on body weight exercises

In order to be consistent, Gill is training hard. He hates going to the gym and relies on body-weight exercises to prepare for the grind. “I do a lot of cycling, outdoor training, cross-fit and calisthenics to keep myself active. The only thing I do in the gym is to train in the sauna. I set high temperatures and try and sit for an hour to prepare myself for extreme heat. Rallying against the best requires a tough mental set-up and the difference between winning and losing is mental,” said Gill.

The odds are stacked against Gill at every stage. At home in Delhi, he isn’t allowed to keep a left-hand drive car because of rules. But rallies have cars with a left-hand wheel. “I don’t have funds to buy such expensive cars to train in India. The government should look beyond cricket and Bollywood to support sportsmen like us. It takes time to train with such a setting before the rally and I have emerged victorious,” he said.

Gill received his FIA title alongside Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton. So will he make the switch? The answer is no. “Rallying is for real men like me. I enjoy the challenges of rally unlike F1. Going circular on a plain track doesn’t interest me but uneven terrain, extreme weather and high speed gives me a high,” said Gill.

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