We broke news of JK Tyre Motorsport returning to rallying in a big way and now the biggest piece of the puzzle falls into place, with Gaurav Gill returning to the team that launched his rallying career and spearheading a major talent hunt program to unearth India’s next rally star. Twelve years ago, Gill switched from JK to MRF Tyres with the promise of an APRC program that netted multiple APRC wins and three APRC championships. With everything to be gained in the trophy cabinet, Team MRF made the bold move to the World Rally Championship in 2018, outfitting Gaurav Gill in the WRC 2 with the M-Sport prepared Ford Fiesta R5.
However, with MRF taking a sabbatical from the WRC 2 in 2019, Gaurav Gill decided to switch to JK Tyre, a move that will allow him to continue driving in the WRC 2 this year, with Turkey, Great Britain and Australia the most likely rounds he will compete in. Gill is expected to stay with the M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 as he already has experience of both the cars as well as the team. And the World Rally program is just one side of the story, with Gill set to lead JK Tyre’s Indian National Rally program, launching a nation-wide talent hunt to unearth the ‘next Gaurav Gill’ and expanding the GG Advanced Driving Academy. “This is chapter two of my life”, says Gaurav Gill. “Now I have a bigger picture where I perform not just in rallies but also for everyone else around me.” “I am thrilled to be back with JK Tyre under whose guidance and inspiration I learnt everything about this beautiful sport.
“We have our slightly different way of operations,” says Sanjay Sharma, head of motorsport at JK Tyre. “We don’t promote for branding. We will pursue and practise rallying as we did in racing. And now that we are coming back and there is a new promoter it is all looking good.” The FMSCI has also confirmed that FIA homologated cars will be allowed in the INRC and from next year four-wheel drive cars like the R5 will also be allowed to run in the INRC and compete for the overall national championship, which JK Tyre intends to compete in with the Ford Fiesta R5 driven by Gaurav Gill. “We now need someone to spearhead the operation. Not only as a participant who is at the peak of his performance and fitness but also to produce a new breed of rally drivers. That’s the need of the hour. Anybody who calls him a fresher, the poor fellow is a privateer who is fighting his own battle without any support, you cannot say he is demonstrating his skills to the best of his ability.”
The 2019 Indian National Rally Championship is set to kick off with the South India rally on June 27 and will not see a full-fledged JK Tyre rally team. As head of JK Tyre motorsport, Sanjay Sharma exclusively told Motor Sport India magazine, “At the local level we have shortlisted drivers whom we are going to start training right from scratch, which means they would go for a three-week program with Karamjit Singh and then they would be shifted to Europe for more training.”
Gaurav Gill will now be part of the JK Tyre INRC program and his rally school will be expanded to identify talent and train the youngsters. Shortlisted drivers will stand a chance to rally in the Junior INRC with full support from JK Tyre and also from the new INRC promoter Champions Yacht Club who are very focussed on growing the young crop of drivers. From 2019 the Junior INRC class will also be a part of the National Championship as confirmed by Vamci Merla, director, Champions Yacht Club.
“The sport has given me everything that I have today. I want to give something back to it, even as I chase my other goals in motorsport. JK is the perfect platform for both. Their programme has been designed to help new talent be on par with international counterparts, honing their skills in the most conducive environment and ambience,” Gaurav Gill said.
Go back in time as we showcase an exciting era of rallying with flamboyant JK Tyre Motorsport Rally team! – Read here!
In addition, much like what JK Tyre has done with karting, the team will also launch Crosskarts in India. Unlike go-karts which are limited to asphalt, Crosskarts, essentially go-karts with more ground clearance and a roll-cage, can be used for autocross events or rallies on different terrain as per their spec. While the specs for the Indian cross karts have still to be finalised by the FMSCI this is a very interesting new discipline and could also get the engineering colleges actively competing in the Mahindra BAJA inter-collegiate championship to build these buggies. This will be rallying for the masses, making it more accessible to motorsport enthusiasts, also being visually spectacular what with the cross karts being rear-wheel drive, powered by 600cc superbike engines, running on loose gravel, and the suspension also allowing big jumps and crowd-pleasing antics.
For the 2019 INRC, Gill will be continuing with Team Mahindra Adventure who will be debuting the Mahindra XUV 300 prepared by Arka Motorsport. The XUV 300 will replace the XUV 500, the reigning national championship winning car, and it will be super exciting to see the potential of the brand new car at the hands of the reigning national champion. What tyres will Gaurav Gill’s Mahindra XUV 300 run on is the big question because Team Mahindra Adventure has partnered with MRF Tyres ever since they started rallying and will continue to do so.
Team JK Tyre is supporting four drivers in the 2019 INRC as it aims to build up its rallying program. Says Sanjay Sharma, “We have shortlisted Karna Kadur, Younus Illyas, Dean Mascarenhas and Suhem Kabeer. Whatever they were driving, whatever they were doing, they will continue to do so and we will sponsor them.” Of the four the first two look the most promising. Karna will be driving the Volkswagen Polo running the new 1.2-litre TSI turbo-petrol engine built by Arka Motorsport while Younus will be driving the Mitsubishi Cedia prepared by Joel Joseph’s Race Concepts, responsible for the ITC race-winning Honda City VTECs. “Outside of Leela [N Leelakrishnan of Arka Motorsport and formerly Red Rooster] I can’t see any other engine tuner as good as Joel,” says Sharma.
Will the rallying program come at the expense of racing? “No,” says Sanjay Sharma. “In fact, racing is going to be next level and we will bring Formula 3 to our last round of the JK Tyre National Racing Championship. JK Tyre will not get out of it because now we are back in karting with four-stroke karts and X30 and we have to give the race drivers a progression.”
“We will be back to the way we were,” says Sanjay Sharma alluding to the nineties when they dominated Indian rallying. “We will take a little time to get there and we have to start from rock bottom but who better to spearhead this entire operation. And this has attracted Gaurav Gill. We are delighted to have one of the world’s finest rallying talent with us. He will not only strengthen our immediate rallying thrust but more excitingly will work with us to develop the next generation of drivers. Gaurav’s experience and expertise will also come in handy for the brand in testing and developing even more robust tyres.”