‘I'm increasingly committed now'

Podium finishes in the two rounds of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship so far and second in the standings — Gaurav Gill really fancies his chance of winning the championship this season. “Why not? The way it's going this year, I'm pretty happy. I'm going to get faster and more consistent,” he says in a chat with Shreedutta Chidananda.

Holding his composure and speed in an event brutal on the cars, Gaurav Gill claimed his first victory of the 2012 APRC (Asia Pacific Rally Championship) season in the Rally of New Caledonia late April, where he led an MRF one-two. Over a minute behind after the opening day with hope seemingly lost, Gill escaped the major hardships that subsequently befell his rivals, instead maintaining pace through any issues of his own to finish on top of the podium. The result took the Delhi driver to second in the standings after two rounds, behind team-mate Chris Atkinson.

Gill spoke to Sportstar on his way back home, during an inhuman 18-hour layover at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport, between shopping trips for his infant son Aaryan (“I have been asked to buy, you know, baby stuff”) and ersatz naps in lounges.

Excerpts:

Question: You called the victory in the Rally of New Caledonia “very special”. What was special about it?

Answer: I was up against drivers who are the best in the world and was finally driving an equal car. Though I was matching them sometimes all these years, I was in an inferior machine. Now we're all at par and I beat such accomplished drivers, not least my team-mate Chris Atkinson. I'm thrilled. These are drivers I used to watch on TV, look up to and hope to drive against sometime. And here I am today, actually defeating them.

You speak of beating Chris; how has the team dynamics changed this season since his arrival?

Definitely, my whole attitude towards the sport and my performance has changed. Katsu (Katsuhiko Taguchi) and I had become very close friends. We were chilled-out about everything. Having been together so long, we knew each other's speed, preferences, style etc., to the extent that I knew if he liked to eat Indian food on a particular day or not. With Chris, it's a lot more professional. This is the complete opposite of that.

You've had podium finishes in the two rounds so far (New Zealand and New Caledonia) and are second in the standings. Could this finally be the year you win the championship?

Why not? The way it's going this year, I'm pretty happy. I'm going to get faster and more consistent. I have a very good chance with this car but at the same time the competition couldn't get tougher. It is really hard but I'm happy about it because I can see the difference in myself already in the two rallies. I've never driven so well and so fast before. It's just because I have these guys around me. I'm increasingly committed now.

The way you're doing now, has the manner in which other drivers look at you changed?

Oh yes (grins). For sure; there is a big difference.

You've won four rallies in the APRC since your debut in 2007. How happy are you with these returns?

Not very happy, honestly, but I had my own circumstances which my team understands. That's why they keep calling me every year…because I've been a fast driver. But most people don't understand this. They will only think why four wins in this many years. In my first year, the car was basically given to me for R&D. I could not complete a single event because the car was riddled with mechanical problems. I was the first person in our part of the world to drive the Evolution X. I wasted close to two years on just learning and developing the car and doing R&D for the team. Despite that, I managed to win one rally (Indonesia, 2008). I don't blame anyone; it's just how it is. Today, if I'm the number one and a junior driver comes, I don't want to drive a new car with no testing done because I don't want to waste my time and performance. By the time we actually completely developed that car to winning speed, the new S2000 cars had come. And Chris and Alister (McRae) and all these guys had come into the championship.

But you came close to becoming champion in 2010…

A lot of people have been criticising my performance by saying that I've been in the APRC for all these years (first full season was 2009) and still not won the championship. Yeah, OK, I got an opportunity in 2010 and Katsu and I fought it out. Unfortunately, I made a mistake in the rally in China. It was just something that I, as a driver, was not aware of. I cut a small corner to take a straight line and I completely broke my steering wheel (and also my wrist and my arm) and the car went off a cliff. I'm not stupid to throw my own car off a cliff. I got caught unawares.

Your new car, the Skoda Fabia S2000, is a left-hand drive. How hard was it to adjust?

It's immensely difficult. It's like asking you to start writing with your left-hand. You're always used to finding things on one side and now all of a sudden, it's the opposite.

And you bought an old left-hand-drive Mercedes to practise in…

Yes. One of my friends owns a workshop and he had one. But the car wasn't in working condition. We spent a lot of time on it and now I've sent it to a Mercedes workshop. I've given them a good budget (laughs).

Beyond the APRC, what else do you have lined up this year?

I will be competing in the INRC, then a bit of Formula Three racing, the support race for the F1 GP and hopefully some international raids.

You've proved good across formats; do you prefer circuit racing or rallying?

Rallying. Any day. It is closest to my heart and it is the only true test of a driver.

So would the WRC be your ultimate goal?

For sure, but the big question is who's going to pump in the money. We need 15-20 crores every year to start with. It is definitely a dream of mine.