It has been eight months, four of those spent on crutches, since Gaurav Gill even sat in a Rally car much less drive it. Now, with the worst behind him, the 26-year old Indian Rally champion who had cut his motor sport teeth on a bike racer, is all set to restart his international career with a drive in the Rally of Hokkaido later this month in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution-9.
His team MRF stood by him in the past four months when he underwent a knee surgery following a road accident on a two-wheeler in his hometown New Delhi. “I am excited at the prospects of taking part in a rally again after eight months. It has been a difficult time for me, recovering from the surgery. Yesterday, I did about 100 Kms of practice in my last year’s Mitsubishi Cedia in Coimbatore. It was great to get back to driving a rally car. I now look forward to performing well in Japan next weekend,” said Gill during an impromptu meeting with the media here Thursday.
For Gill, it has been less than satisfactory start to his international career. MRF, the Chennai-based tyre giant, who signed him up at the start of the 2007 season to drive for them in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) besides the Indian series, provided him a brand new, top-of-the-rack Evo-9 for his debut event in New Caledonia. But Gill, still unused to the quicker, more powerful and all-wheel drive car, crashed, carrying too much speed over a crest into a corner, early in the event. With the team unable to secure spares for the heavily damaged Evo-9, Gill missed out the next three rounds before staging a comeback in Indonesia in a highly underpowered Evo-7.
He competed in four rounds of the 2007 APRC before disaster struck by way of the accident early this year. “I am still in the process of learning the Evo-9. You need to put in a lot of miles to understand the characteristics of the car, especially the electronics. The Evo-9 is a very intelligent car and extremely sensitive. “So for me having only driven a frontwheel, 100bhp car in the Indian championship, it was a huge jump,” reflected Gill whom the discerning reckon is a “natural” after having seen him achieve the grand double of Indian racing and rallying championship titles.
Looking ahead to Japan where the terrain has often caught out the best of them with its tight, twisty and slippery Special Stages, Gill said his focus would be on consistency and gaining valuable experience driving the Evo-9. “I have already lost three rounds this year, and so my aim would be to put in consistent timings and get among points. I will be doing two days of testing in Japan early next week and that should put me back in shape,” he said. Incidentally, Gill will have a new co-driver in Jonathan Mortimer, a 35-year old Australian with over 10 years of experience in the Australian championship. “Jon will partner me only for the Japan rally, but thereafter, Glen Mcneall, who navigated for me last season, will be back. Glen was not available for Japan due to prior commitments,” Gill disclosed.
He opined that the only way he can improve further was to put in more miles in the car. “There is so much to learn and the best way is to drive the car as much as possible. The more miles you put in, the better you understand the car and its characteristics.” As regards his physical fitness, Gill asserted that he has been spending a lot of time in the gym, trying to strengthen specific muscles. “I am as fit as I can ever be, but there is no substitute to actual driving to improve your fitness, and that is what I aim to do from now on,” he said.