Skoda’s new tie-up with MRF and the arrival of Finnish champion Esapekka Lappi augur well for Gaurav Gill’s future as he looks at a bigger world, writes Stan Rayan – SportStar, India
For a change, Gaurav Gill will be both a teacher and student in the Asian Pacific Rally Championship this season. India’s best rally driver has set his sights on a round of the newly introduced World Rally Championship-2 in September, and will be looking to pick up a few tips from his MRF team-mate, Esapekka Lappi of Finland, in the Asia Pacific series.
Lappi, famously known as being ‘faster than God’ with his feats on the Finnish circuit, won the WRC-2’s Rally of Portugal recently, but he could be looking for a few lessons from Gill when the APRC season kicks off in Whangarei in New Zealand. “Esky has not done any APRC round, I’ve been in the APRC for many years now, so it will help both ways: he can learn from me, I can learn from him,” said Gill.
“And it’s important to have a strong team-mate, someone like Esky, that’s what pushes you to learn more and pushes you to give your best. I think I work best under pressure, so I’m always looking forward to having a strong team-mate to push myself and achieve new goals.”
Gill is preparing to take part in the Australian round of the WRC-2 in mid-September, hoping that a good performance there will impress sponsors and bring him a full World rally drive next year. “I chose the WRC Australia round as I have already gone there and I’ve been very strong there,” said the 31-year-old rally driver. “So, it makes sense.” The WRC-2 is the world body FIA’s principal series for near-showroom spec four-wheel drive, turbocharged cars. It replaces the Super 2000 WRC and covers a number of vehicle classes — Group N, R4, R5 and S2000.
There are a lot of things that currently seem to be working in Gill’s favour. Skoda, the Czech carmaker, has joined hands with MRF for the APRC this time. “We’ve got factory back-up from Skoda for our (two-car) team, that’s a huge step-up for our team and my career…we’ll be driving official factory Skodas on MRF tyres at the APRC,” said Gill.
That opens up many promising possibilities for the Indian star. “The whole idea is, since they are onboard, we can show them some good speed and get some local sponsors and club them and go for some big rounds. I have to look at bigger things. And driving in the WRC is what I’ve been wanting to do for so many years,” said the driver who has tasted success in the APRC earlier and who had driven in the Production Cars World Championship a couple of years ago.
“The Skoda team also is very experienced because it has been doing the WRC for many years now, so it obviously has a lot of experience in what it is doing.” With Skoda looking to expand substantially in Asian markets including India, Gill could just be the perfect horse to ride on. Gill drives for tyre giant MRF in the APRC and for Mahindra in an XUV-500 in the Indian National Rally Championship’s SUV class.
Not many expected the Mahindra factory team’s XUVs (the others were driven by Sunny Sidhu and Lohit Urs), which were making their INRC debut, to give the Mitsubishi Cedias a run for their money in the recent National Championship opener, Chennai’s AVT South India Rally. Gill, however, stunned everybody and was the fastest driver overall.
“We all know that Gill is the best driver today, so I was not very surprised (with his Chennai feat),” said N. Leelakrishnan, a former multiple national champion who now tunes the Mahindra rally vehicles. “I thought we would be quite competitive with the Cedias and the Volkswagen (Polos) but never really thought we’d beat them so easily.”
Leelakrishnan sees a bright future for Gill in the WRC. “For sure, he will be doing very well in the class he’s entering in the WRC,” he said. “If you look at the drivers he’s beaten in the APRC in Australia, he has a lot of potential. He’s struggling for sponsors for his WRC drive currently but as a driver and as a package, I think he will do very well in the WRC.”