Gaurav Gill says his teammate, lightning fast Lappi, pushed him to greater heights and helped him become the first Indian to win the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship

It is not unusual for a sportsman to compete with a teammate for the limelight, but motorsport takes this aspect to a different level. Bad blood between drivers is a common occurrence in Formula One, the most recent example being the feud between Red Bull's Mark Webber and Sebastien Vettel. After allegations of favourable treatment from the bosses and a string of clashes, Webber eventually decided to quit.

For Gaurav Gill, the arrival of a “lightning fast” teammate in Finland’s Esapekka Lappi forced him to tighten up his act. The result — Gill became the first Indian to win the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) title when he took second place in the China Rally in Longyou recently.

“Lappi is lightning quick; I knew I was up against some serious competition. His driving style pushed me to take risks when I was behind the wheel,” Gill says, before the ceremonial flag-off of the 39th Indian National Rally Championship IMG K-1000 rally recently.

“During the season, I won the rally at New Caladonia with a fast run. It was there that I knew that my teammate was helping me with my speed. This year, I drove on the limit throughout. Honestly, I had to drive like that to stand a chance against him. From there on, I controlled the championship,” he says.

Takes its toll

Driving “on the limit” takes its toll on the car, a fact which was not lost on the team. “The team was not happy after the half-season because the budgets were through the roof. The cars were taking a real beating. We had many parts replaced. Lappi had a huge crash in Caladonia, so that was a huge expenditure as well.”

Gill points to the penultimate round at Japan as the turning point of the season. Not surprisingly, a full season of pushing the car came to a boil. “The championship was more or less decided in Japan. Both of us went flat-out. I initially led, and then the team told us to back off. However, he did not back off. Then, he broke his suspension because the roads were just too rough. You can drive at a 100 per cent, but once you push that one extra per cent, you put the whole year in jeopardy. I protected the car, won the rally, and went on to win the championship.”

The Delhiite, while ecstatic to win the coveted title, states that the MRF tyres he used was another source of pride. “All the tyres we use are manufactured in Chennai. A lot of foreign drivers ask me about my tyres, and I am so proud that to tell them that it is made in India. We race against the top guys in the world, and we managed to beat teams which use Michelin, Pirelli and Dmack tyres.”

The 31-year-old also spoke highly of his car - a Skoda Fabia Super 2000. “This is the finest car ever built in the world of rallying. I am thrilled to be the only Indian to have driven such a technologically-advanced car.”

Gill now seeks a driver’s seat in the World Rally Championship (WRC), the pinnacle of the sport. “I want to do some testing during the off-season. MRF has always supported me, but they do understand that the amount of testing I am doing now is not enough. I will do some running around, talking to people to get some support.”