It is intriguing how the mind of a rally driver ticks, especially when all that ticking happens at breathtaking speeds on narrow, winding roads and trails that offer little grip, and throw up jumps and hazards every now and then. For Gaurav Gill, the newly-crowned Asia Pacific Rally champion who made history this year by becoming the first driver to win all rounds of an FIA championship, the thought processes while on the limit in a rally car is instinctive, “just like breathing”.
But does he really get time to breathe while at the wheel, especially in the rally-built, Race Torque-prepped MRF Skoda Fabia R5 — the car Gaurav Gill drives at the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC)?
Gill laughs and explains it with a bit of zen. When the multiple national rally champion straps into the driver’s seat, he becomes one with the car and all other thoughts are left out — a calm sets in.
“The focus is on feeling the terrain and driving on the limit. Of course, I do listen to the co-driver (New Zealand’s Glenn MacNeall in the APRC and Musa Sherif in the national championship) for he understands what’s in store and has planned the pace notes,” says Gill, who was the 2013 APRC champ as well.
Gill had a perfect season this year at the APRC, winning all the rounds, though it wasn’t a cakewalk either. He was challenged right through the year — the biggest rival being his MRF teammate Fabian Kreim of Germany, and Cusco Racing’s Michael Young of New Zealand, in a Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
After winning in the first five rounds — New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan and Malaysia — when Gill came to India for the final round of the championship at the Coffee Day India Rally in Chikamagaluru (Karnataka), in the first week of December, he was on the cusp of history. Gill was under pressure too to perform well at his “home rally”, a rare experience for him as India has not hosted an international rally for almost 15 years.
But Gill was happy with the pressure and says it was something he wanted — the challenge to win each time he is out there. And it is not that simple for a rally driver as the variables out there are many. A good drive could be ruined by a slow puncture or a major crash. But these thoughts need to be kept out as the rally driver has to give his 100 percent, hoping the stars align perfectly too.
Gill’s stars were perfect this year, but more than the good luck involved, it was the controlled, matured aggression the 35-year-old Indian driver displayed through the season, besides his search for challenges to motivate himself, that pushed him towards glory.
In the last few years, Gill has been in a quest, searching for avenues that would challenge him. He is a cut above the rest not just in India, but in the Asia Pacific region and belongs on the world stage (the World Rally Championship). Sponsorships, or the lack of it, has confined him to continental championships but that didn’t stop Gill from pushing himself further.
Pushing the envelope
It is not a quest for perfection for a rally driver as a rally stage, unlike a race track, is not a perfect world. “One can’t be truly ready for the challenges a rally stage throws at you,” says Gill.
Rallying is, in essence, like life, Gill reflects.
And in life, one has to reinvent and challenge oneself to grow. That’s what the champion did this year and a world record is his.
Gaurav Gill has once again showed the motorsport world that he deserves a bigger stage. Perhaps 2017 would give him a new challenge, one that he deserves.