Gaurav Gill is India's most decorated four-wheel rally driver.
He made his rally debut in the 1998 Indian National Rally Championship on two-wheelers and then won the Group D Popular Rally in 1999.
He won events in motocross, road racing and rallying on two wheels before switching to four wheels, where he found his calling.
He made his four-wheel rally debut in the K1000 category at the 2005 Indian National Rally Championship. And since then, he has blazed a path with his cars.
He has won seven Indian National Rally Championship titles, three Asia-Pacific Rally Championship titles and received the Arjuna Award for motorsports, the highest honour given to a sportsperson by the Indian government. He now encourages young rally hopefuls by running a school in Coimbatore.
Here are a few of his tips for anyone who wants to take up rally driving.
1. Focus on fitness first
“The top trait to become better as a driver is dedicated fitness training. Rally drivers need a lot of endurance. A good rally driver needs to drive for a few days at times, and even up to 16 hours a day,” says Gaurav.
Focus on these areas of fitness if you want to become a successful rally driver:
- Core strength: Core fitness should be top notch
- Muscle strength: Train like a professional athlete; ie fitness for functionality
- Cardio: Your cardio fitness should be good and heart rate should be low at all times
- Concentration: Include drills that can help improve your concentration levels
2. Spend more time behind the wheel of a car
The more seat time you get in a car means more driving practice and a better understanding of the chassis, tyres, suspension, and other parts of the car. More practice directly results in you becoming a better driver with a better understanding of your car.
“If you do not understand how cars work, how mechanics work, you cannot become a better driver,” says Gaurav.
3. Learn how to make your road book
The road book is a navigation tool which lists directions and pace notes for the driver to follow.
“Navigation is important and depends on pace notes. We drivers work hard on developing pace notes ourselves,” says Gaurav.
The pace notes are developed by the driver according to what information he/she needs in the car. This information will be read out by the co-driver, at high speeds, during the stages. Different words and terms are used by each driver according to their preference and convenience so it is easy for them to follow and execute suggestions during the rally.
These notes can be about angles of turns or distance or even a caution. The driver can maximise speeds based on good navigation and good pace notes.
“If you are comfortable with pace notes, you are going to trust yourself, you are going to trust your notes and drive 100 per cent without actually knowing where to go and what corner is coming up next,” says Gaurav.
4. Practice on different terrain
“Rallying is not a sport like racing where you have basically two conditions – dry and wet. Rallying will take you to places where you have snow, ice, and night driving in forest paths on the hills,” says Gaurav.
A single rally stage may take you from smooth roads to gravel and end up on mountains with snow and ice. So you should practice driving on different terrains across the world or different regions of your country.
5. Spend some time in simulators
Gaurav says that simulators are a new tool and have evolved in the past 10 years to become very helpful. He warns that while simulators can teach you about handling of rally cars, more than 90 per cent of the true rallying experience is lost unless you are using hi-tech simulators which are used by WRC and F1 drivers. Nevertheless, they are very helpful.
“Simulators help you tune your driving skills, brush up on pace notes, navigational skills and basic handling of the car. Some are modern and provide feedback via gameplay,” says Gaurav.
Motorsport is expensive. So sponsorship is essential if you want to have a career in motorsport.
Gaurav says that motorsport being added to the Indian Olympic Association and his Arjuna Award have helped take the sport to the masses. This will also bring in more sponsors.
But each person will have to look through their own channels to secure their own sponsorship. The best way to convince sponsors is to win rallies.
7. Make your engineer your best friend
“I have been around the world with different engineers of different manufacturers. Engineers also work as coaches and as a friend. They teach you how to drive better, how to use and optimise tools, and how to handle the car, the engines, and the gearboxes; especially when you move up to complex cars like WRC cars,” says Gaurav.
He says it is important to have a good working relationship with your engineer, but also that it is important to be a `part-engineer' yourself.
Knowing how the car works, how suspension works, how differentials work, how gear boxes work, understanding the tyres and taking care of them – these are all important to become a better rally driver.