Gaurav Gill
© Srinivasa Krishnan

7 best off-road car rally drivers in India

Discover the top performers in Indian rally championships who have consistently been ahead of the competition and winning trophies over the years.
Written by David Bodapati
Published on
Since Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) received official status by Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) in 1988, many excellent drivers have come through the ranks.
Over three decades, highly respected Indian rally drivers like N Leelakrishnan, Farad Bathena, Naren Kumar, Hari Singh, and others, have been the role models for motorsports hopefuls in the country.
Here we look at some of the talented contemporary drivers participating in INRC and other rally championships around the country. (This list is not a ranking)

1. Gaurav Gill

Rally driver Gaurav Gill competes during a round of INRC.
Gaurav Gill during a round of INRC
Gaurav Gill is an aggressive rally driver with brute speed. He is India’s most decorated rally driver with three Asia-Pacific Rally Championship titles and seven INRC titles to his name. He is also the first Indian motorsports athlete to be given the Arjuna Award.
Gaurav started his motorsports career with bikes and won the Motocross Nationals in 1999 and Racing Nationals in 2004. A multi-faceted talent, he dabbled in 2w rallies before settling to focus on Car rallies and went on to take part in three World Rally Championship WRC2 rounds in 2009. Hardworking, disciplined and passionate lover of speed, Gill matured over the years to finish more rallies and nurtures a dream to win WRC, which requires huge sponsorship. He also trains young talent through his Rally Schools to promote high-performance drivers. Though 39, the best is yet to come as he prepares for another shot at APRC 2021.

2. Karna Kadur

Rally driver Karna Kadur competes at Indian National Rally Championship round in Chennai.
Karna Kadur at INRC in Chennai
He was just 6 years, when he zoomed into motorsports on a 50cc Suzuki bike, with a Team Kadur sticker, the team started by his father Prakash, an avid rally enthusiast. And encouraged by his mom, Karna went on to become a multiple champion in different motorsport disciplines like racing and rallying. He won the National Championship (INRC) in Rally Star Cup in 2009 and the coveted N Class in 2011 before becoming the Overall champion in 2016, which he missed by a whisker in 2012 amidst many other titles and honours. "After 21 years behind many kinds of wheels, many humbling experiences and triumphant victories, I know one thing about rallying. It is me that is driving the car but it is the passion that is driving me," Karna said after the 2016 victory in Chikmagalur. Karna who started with road racing, becoming the National Novice champion in Fissme cars in 2004, is now a Driver Mentor and Motorsports manager having served for big teams like Red Rooster Racing, Mahindra Racing and Toyota Etios and currently with Arka Motorsports.

3. Dean Mascarenhas

Rally driver Dean Mascarenhas displays a road book used for navigation
Dean explains the road book
A talented driver endowed with brute speed, Dean Mascarenhas shot into limelight at 18, winning Rally Star class by a mile on his debut at K1000 in 2011. He began his racing in 2005 at 12 on a motorcycle but soon switched to cars, inspired by the tales of his father, a veteran rallyist. In 2013, he tried his hand at road racing with a podium at Etios Cup at the Mecca of Indian tracks, the Buddh Circuit and went on to win the Etios Cup in 2014. But he settled into rallying taking part regularly in the Indian National Rally Championship, where he bagged many victories with 2014 IRC win in Chikmagalur and the victory at Nashik in 2015 being prominent. Despite immense talent and passionate driving, Dean missed the big fruit narrowly, many a time, and is gearing up for the new season in JK Tyre colours. "I am improving everyday and have received a lot of technical inputs from Gill. Rallying is truly a science and I want to implement them this season," the Mangalorean said.

4. Amittrajit Ghosh

Rally driver Amittrajit Ghosh competes at the Indian National Rally Championship round in Coimbatore.
Amittrajit Ghosh at INRC in Coimbatore
Amittrajit Ghosh is a multiple National champion. The Kolkota lad won the Racing Nationals in 2005 and went on to become the Indian National Rally Champion for 2012 and 2013. Ghosh, also won the ERC3 class podium in the British Rally Championship in 2018 and became the first Indian driver to take part in the European Rally Championship. He is a regular in INRC, driving for Team Mahindra Adventure with long-time co-driver Ashwin Naik. The Bengal ace, who is a steady driver, also became the only father-son duo to win the popular K1000 rally in Bengaluru. While Ghosh Sr won in 1981 in a Fiat, Amittrajit took the honours in 2016. He drives for Team Mahindra and is supported by JK Tyre.

5. Dr Bikku Babu

Rally driver Dr Bikku Babu competes at Indian National Rally Championship round in Chennai.
Dr Bikku Babu at INRC in Chennai
Bikku Babu, a doctor by profession fell in love with motorsports at the age of 9 but his father wanted him to complete his MBBS first. But that did not stop him winning at Coimbatore, the Mill & Monsoon rally in 2000 in his class and another back-to-back wins in RSC in 2001. "I first saw the Himalayan Rally on TV as a nine-year old and instantly fell for the sport. I immediately decided that this is what I wanted to do in life and told my father. He did not discourage me but told me to first complete my studies," he reminisced. Later from 2009, after becoming a doctor, despite the time constraints, talented Dr Babu blossomed into a top-class driver and earned the nickname, Dr Speed. Maturing like old wine, he is going strong even after two decades and is known for his smooth and clean driving. Apart from many Class wins and laurels in INRC, the National Autocross championship in 2018 was his high.

6. Chetan Shivaram

Rally driver Chethan Shivram competes at Indian National Rally Championship round in Chennai.
Chethan Shivram at INRC in Chennai
A passionate and talented driver, Chetan Shivram caught the eye of the motorsports world with a stunning debut in 2004 K1000 rally and was awarded the Best Rookie driver by FMSCI in 2005. He went on to represent India in the Asian Gymkhana the same year and began his long journey, and over the years, he made motorsports his mainstay. He had many wins and podiums but the National championship eluded him till 2019 when he paired with his brother Dilip Sharan to conquer the ultimate prize. Chetan who began as an 'attacking' driver matured into a steady and clean driver with 'controlled aggression' and is still going strong after 20 seasons. Chetan has been training many youngsters in the last few years. "It is a small way to give back to Motorsports which has given me so much," said the Bengaluru driver, who is also a qualified steward. He recently trained 25 women in motorsports which is his 20th Rally School, and plans to make it a regular programme from next year.

7. Fabid Ahmer

Rally driver Fabid Ahmer competes at Indian National Rally Championship round in Chennai.
Fabid Ahmer at INRC in Chennai
Inspired by his uncle, the 27-year old Fabid Ahmer made his debut at the Coffee estates in Chikmagalur in 2015 and won the Best Rookie tag that year. The skilled driver soon made a name for himself as a clean and consistent driver. After two years of steady performance, he upgraded to INRC3, and was leading the National Championship after two rounds in 2019 but suffered some penalties on transport stage, due to lack of experience, in the last rally and lost the plum but still won the Junior Championship. He then honed his skills attending the Gill driving school. "He is a very smooth driver. I have made some subtle changes to his style to make it more effective and he is a quick learner," said Gaurav Gill, then. Later, the lawyer from Palakkad said: "Gill is a genius and some of his tips are truly classic and they help me in real situations with great results." His strength is his ability to stay calm under pressure and to be consistent and clean. Fabid pilots a Volkswagen Polo prepared by Chettinad Sporting.