New Delhi, June 5 (IANS) Dubbed as the "Grand Prix on Gravel", Rally Finland is the fastest event on the World Rally Championship and is known for its smooth and wide gravel roads, numerous big jumps and blind crests.
It is known to be very difficult for drivers from non-Nordic countries. India's Gaurav Gill last year was one such driver. He recorded a personal best jump of 50 metres at a pace of 180 kmph.
In 2013, Gill became the first Indian to win the Asia Pacific Rally Championship. He went on to win the title in 2016 and 2017. All this led to him being nominated for the Arjuna Award three times, all of which ended in snubs.
The 37-year-old explains best when asked about what it takes to condition oneself to the rigours of motor racing. "Your brain never really had that function. So you have to teach your brain and have the confidence that it can do that and you can do that," Gill says while trying to explain the difficulties a driver faces at Rally Finland.
"You are pretty much all the time airborne and sideways and then you have to understand where the car will land at that speed. It is an amazingly difficult thing to get used to," Gill told IANS.
At first glance, Gill's is a chaotic sport. You see a car flying over a jump or sliding around a corner at breathtaking speeds, kicking up dirt and gravel and often going too close to the spectators for comfort.
Inside the cockpit, you see the co-driver bobbing about, eyes fixed on his pace-notes as he shouts out instructions. The driver's hands are flailing around the steering wheel, the left holding it and the right alternating between the wheel and the gearbox. However, as Gill tries to explain, there is method in the chaos.
"You are not going crazy in the street or something, this is a controlled environment. We are driving within the boundaries of certain specifications from the global body FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile). There is a bit of risk involved in any sport but safety has been our top priority all the time," said Gill.
Motorsports in India is yet to reach the heights it has in Europe and rally car racing is can best be described as a niche within a niche. 37-year-old Gill has broken out of this tiny space and has been pretty much the face for his sport in the country for a good part of the previous decade.
So what is the difference between being a rally car driver from India and one from say countries like Finland or France, home to the legendary Sebastian Loeb?
"The most difficult part is that these cars are all handmade and very expensive. They are not made in India," Gill says. "I don't have access to them at all. It becomes very difficult for me to actually go compete against the best in the world and drive against them when they do 20-25 races a year while I on the other hand get to do four or five.
"For me it's all about mental preparation and doing a lot of homework, watching videos of how these guys drive and talking to all the engineers. Because when I go there, nobody waits for anyone. Go flat out or go home is the attitude because everyone wants to win the world championship. Physically I am always in top shape and always ready to take on the best guys in the world," he asserts.
Gill says that he had a few successes in Formula racing too, but Formula One never really had the appeal that rally racing had for him. "Rally is way more difficult than any other motorsport. In F1, you are using the best technology whereas here (Formula racing) you are restricted to the tech that the Federation allows you to keep. So it really boils down to the talent of the driver," he says.
However, one shouldn't be mistaken into thinking that there is minimal tech involved in the sport. "Normally in sports, it's the athletes that evolve over time. Here your machines are evolving faster than you are. Every year there is some new tech and one of the challenges is to stay abreast of this," says Gill.
"It'll be great for the people who are in the sport and are trying to make a career out of it. It will open the eyes of the automobile manufacturers, the ad industry, the media and so on. It will also open the gates to go for this as a career.
Gill will be confined to domestic rallies this year with his team MRF deciding to give the 2019 World Rally Championship-2 a miss. He has no plans of stopping any time soon. "The thing about our sport is that age isn't really a factor. So I am just going to go on and on. I have no plans to stop," he says.