The next step for Gaurav Gill’s growing list of rally credentials may not take him in his intended direction, but it promises to be exciting nonetheless.
For someone who claims to not actively chase a drive in the WRC-2 category of the FIA World Rally Championship, Gaurav Gill sure drives like someone who hasn’t lost an ounce of motivation. Having followed Gill’s career for the better part of ten years now and having interacted with him frequently over that time, I find it hard to believe that Gill has given up on the dream to be in a WRC-2 beast and beat some of the best rally drivers in the world.
Gill himself gave some perspective on his current mindset regarding his future as a rally driver. ‘Five years ago I wasn’t a father and a business owner,’ Gill said after wrapping up his third FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title in five years by winning the Coffee Day India Rally. ‘There’s a lot more on my mind these days, and I know the realities of motorsport. So if it happens (WRC-2) then it happens.’
While Gill balances contemplation and success, drivers already in WRC-2 are well aware of his abilities. After all, Gill has beaten two of the most fancied young drivers in the world, who were backed by Skoda, to an APRC crown in equal machinery. In 2013, it was Esapekka Lappi, and now it is Ole Christian Veiby. Between the two was last year’s rather lopsided thrashing of Fabian Kreim, a young German driver who barely had any experience of rallying on gravel. The match-up with Veiby was far more balanced as the Team Skoda MRF drivers went into the final APRC event of the year, with Gill just six points ahead on the championship table. Any anticipation of a furious back and forth between the two, however, was squashed on the very first leg of the rally. When the Race Torque team – that prepares and maintains the Fabia R5 cars for Skoda MRF – suspected a piece of the broken front differential of Veiby’s car going into and destroying the gearbox, his challenge to Gill was over.
It robbed the eager fans of the kind of close battles that Gill and Veiby had been involved in over the course of the year and switched Gill’s focus on keeping his potent rally car on the road through tight and technical stages that amounted to a total of 207kms.
Gill’s mood, however, wasn’t dampened by his victory (without close battles) over a Skoda driver, who at 21 is already a winner of WRC-2 and is tipped to be a star of the future. Much like Lappi who was 22 years old when Gill won his first APRC crown in 2013. Lappi is now a Toyota driver in WRC and has scored an overall win in this year’s Rally Finland.
‘I feel like this year’s title win was definitely tougher than last year’s,’ said Gill. ‘It was a lot like 2013, in that Ole and me had some very close battles like I did with Lappi.
‘However Lappi was more prone to making mistakes than Ole, and that’s what I feel made winning this year’s title a lot tougher. It also is very satisfying for me given that I am beating the best young talents from Europe in a car that they are a lot more familiar with, given how many rallies they take part in and how much testing they do.
‘It is a good advertisement for Indian motorsport when people can see how we can find success despite limited preparation.’
Gill and co-driver Stephane Prevot’s final winning margin was 17 minutes and 38.4 seconds over Veiby and co-driver Stig Skjarmoen. Sri Lanka’s Sharfaz Junaid and co-driver Akhry Ameer were a further 33 minutes behind in their Volkswagen Polo in the provisional classification.
The much anticipated outing for Mike Young and co-driver Michael Read in Volkswagen Motorsport India’s (VWMI) R2-spec Polo was compromised after a rock damaged the fuel tank. However, VWMI head Sirish Vissa was encouraged by both the times Young was able to set when the car was running and the feedback for its development.
‘I wish we could have made it to the podium but I was very happy with the speed we were able to get out of the car,’ Vissa told autoX. ‘The R2 regulations are comparatively a lot easier for a manufacturer to prepare their cars to, and I hope this leads to other car companies in India taking a chance to compete as well.’
One Indian manufacturer that has taken the leap into rallying is increasingly expected to look way beyond India for its next motorsport foray. And the reason why this is relevant is because it may well involve the point of focus of the India Rally – Gaurav Gill. The now 36-year-old’s Dakar Rally intentions are an open secret as is his desire to do so with Mahindra, for whom he competes in the FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship.
In not so subtle words, Gill has often stated that the natural end-point of his involvement with Mahindra is an attempt at the world’s toughest motorsport crucible. Mahindra’s intent is also well-documented, but aside from making inquiries with a prototype manufacturer there is little solid evidence of such a foray actually taking shape.
If Gill is to be believed, that will soon change over the next year or two, but only so far as he is concerned. He will be at this year’s Dakar Rally to get a lay of the land. Whether this will involve Mahindra too is unknown, but fingers and toes are crossed for it to be so.