As you wait for Gaurav Gill in the sitting room of his south Delhi home, pictures of his childhood let slip the story of a boy fascinated with machines from a young age. Mounted on bikes and seated in the driver’s seat when just tall enough to reach the steering wheel, but smiling still, or posing with the car barely reaching its bonnet, speak volumes of his love for them.
“There was no greater attraction than the mean machines. Breaking into a melody when my tyres crunched the tarmac and zooming into motion with an adrenaline rush made life exciting. All this began when I was about two,” says Gill, 32, the first Indian race car driver to win the prestigious Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) (on a Skoda Fabia), in November 2013 in China.
This Delhi boy started his motorsport career by rallying on two wheels at the Indian National Rally Championship in the 2000s. Encouraged by his uncle, Dicky Gill, he showed great adaptability as he graduated to four-wheels and was soon winning national car rallies, go-karting championships and endurance races. He even signed up for the Raid-de-Himalaya in 2000. “Just like any other sport, this is very competitive. It requires the racer to rally against time with great discipline,” says Gill. He represents Mahindra and drives Mahindra XuV Suv500 at the Indian Rally Championship.
The happily married racer loves spending time with his wife Shilpa, who is a dermatologist, and his two-year-old son Aryan. “We juggle our time as I am travelling and she’s completing her MD. She is extremely supportive of my work and also shares my love for cars. We try to find time between all the racing and sometimes they travel with me too,” says the doting father. “Aryan already enjoys sitting behind the wheel.”
Shuttling between Chennai and Delhi, Gill is focused and an old hand on the race track, but it all comes with a price. “We have to be extremely fit, sometimes I am driving for 12 to 14 hours a day in the championships and hence the core needs to be strong. The terrain is also taxing and can be biting cold,” he says.
His game takes him across the globe and Gill says the sport requires racers to be either financially sound or well sponsored. “If an amateur goes for a race without a sponsor, he will have to shell out anything between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 11 lakh. If a sponsored professional races, he is in for it for anything between Rs 1 crore to even more,” he says. And while racing is a rich man’s sport, Gill says, his hardwork has helped him so far. “It cannot be denied that it is, in fact, a rich man’s sport but I have pursued this beyond all odds. All that I have achieved is through merit.”
At present, Gill is preparing to participate in the ongoing World Rally Championship that would be held across 14 countries, the Asia Pacific Championship starting April that would start from New Zealand and end in Thailand, and the National Rally Championship that starts from Bangalore in April. “It is hard to compete with Pacific racers as they are well trained and equipped. I am looking forward to the races and hope to put an Indian flag in all the countries I visit,” he says.
He says he can’t wait for his son to sit behind the wheel. “I am keyed up to see him lay his hands on his first go-kart or even learn drifting,” says the proud daddy.