Controversy over Gaurav Gill’s Arjuna Award is unwarranted

Controversy over Gaurav Gill’s Arjuna Award is unwarranted

<i>Gaurav Gill did set 11 fastest stage times in the WRC2 category. And the three Asia-Pacific rally championships holds more weight for the Arjuna Award than stage times</i>

The motorsport community is up in arms over a controversy that has erupted over Gaurav Gill’s Arjuna Award and the wording used in the application. The controversy has its roots in the first line of Annexure 1 of the application which mentions his achievement as ‘Won 11 stages in the FIA WRC’. The story, which can be read here, calls this ‘misleading’ and goes on to quote the WRC category manager of the FIA saying that this can be called ‘class stage wins’. So who is correct? And was there an attempt at misrepresentation as is being claimed?

Gaurav Gill’s participation in the 2018 WRC 2
After a decade in the Asia Pacific Rally championship where Gaurav Gill won three championships and established himself among the best drivers of the Asia Pacific region his sponsor, MRF Tyres, decided to move to the World Rally Championship taking their Indian star driver with them. MRF Tyres contracted UK based M-Sport to build, prepare and run a Ford Fiesta built to R5 rally specs and running on Indian-built MRF Tyres. MRF has always had a very commendable attitude that whatever they take part in, it will be on their own tyres, and the same vision continued with their WRC campaign. Their aim was to test, develop and raise the standard of their competition tyres, that had already won in the APRC, by competing against the best in the world in the WRC. Technically the WRC2 but, as you will observe, I said WRC. The WRC2 comes under the WRC umbrella and it is just easier and less complicated to use WRC in all our reports than WRC2.

Which means Gaurav Gill was a non-registered WRC2 driver
To qualify for the WRC or WRC2 championship, you need to register for the championship. But Gaurav Gill could not as the MRF tyres were not homologated. And that means, while he was competing in the WRC2 category his results come under the RC2 (Regional Classification 2) class.

Tyre homologation
MRF’s stated, and commendable, goal was — and is! — to develop competition tyres that can stand up to the best in the world. That’s why they did the APRC in the first place and now their tyres are so good it is the control tyre for the Australian and many other rally championships. MRF’s plan was to use 2018 to test and develop their tyres. Now if you homologate your tyres that means you can only change the compound once during the year. Which makes no sense for a test program. And so MRF didn’t homologate the tyres, preferring to test what eventually must have amounted to hundreds of compounds over the course of 2018. The WRC, always happy with a new entrant and especially happy with one from the second most populous country on earth, allowed that but only for four rallies — which is why MRF and Gaurav Gill entered only four rallies in 2018: Italy, Finland, Great Britain and Australia.

So what is the controversy?
The best way I can put it is, this is a technicality. If you dig out WRC2 stage times from 2018 you will not find Gaurav Gill’s name in it. And that’s because his name is listed under the RC2 category. So the report questioning Gaurav Gill’s Arjuna Award is correct on that front. But fact of the matter, and clarified in the results sheets of the Kennards Hire Rally Australia, which can be viewed here, is that Gaurav Gill’s Fiesta R5 on MRF Tyres did set 11 fastest stage times among all the WRC2 entrants. Basically among all the R5-spec cars entered, which are one rung below the full WRC-spec cars, Indian driver Gaurav Gill set the fastest time on 11 stages. Any journalist who knows rallying and is purely interested in the fastest drivers on the stage will report it as such — the RC2 / WRC2 classification is important for championship classifications and points which was immaterial to Gaurav Gill as he wasn’t registered for the championship. To add to that, the rally results and the podium doesn’t discriminate between RC2 and WRC2 and had Gaurav Gill finished the rally he would have a Rally Australia WRC2 category trophy to add to his overflowing trophy cabinet. To clarify again, being registered or not registered does not take away from the fact that his times were the fastest among all the R5 cars entered in the WRC2 category. Gaurav Gill didn’t win that rally. He hit a bank, damaged the car, and retired on day two of the rally — while in the lead of the WRC2 category. He rejoined for the remainder of the stages on Sunday under SuperRally format rules which impose time penalties for every stage missed and that meant he dropped down to the bottom of results sheets.

The Arjuna Award
I cannot hazard a guess on what basis the committee awarded Gaurav Gill the Arjuna award. But it would in all likelihood be on merit and the merit that stands out is his three championships in the APRC. In fact, the Arjuna Award also lists out achievements in Asian games as a qualifying criteria and winning the APRC title thrice is a massive enough achievement.Winning stages in the WRC, whether it is the WRC or WRC 2 or the RC2 will not qualify one for an award as prestigious as the Arjuna.

Strong rebuke from the FMSCI
In an uncharacteristically strong retort, the FMSCI slammed the article as, “malicious, motivated… meant to mislead people who don’t understand motorsports.”The secretary general of the FMSCI, Rajan Syal said, “GG beat the best in his class, driving a car with the same specifications. Simply because he was an unregistered driver, he is classified as an RC2 winner. This is a technical point that motorsports aficionados are aware of.”

I am with Gaurav Gill
The controversy could not have come at a worse time, exactly a week after Gaurav Gill’s horrific accident at the Jodhpur rally . Or maybe it was timed to ride on the back of the controversy. This writer cannot say. Fact is the report is not wrong. Fact also is that the report harps on the technicalities of RC2 and WRC2 to mislead the reader and paint a picture of an undeserving winner. And the third fact — which is most important of all — is that Gaurav Gill did set the fastest time among all the R5 cars entered in the WRC2 category in the rally in question. Can anybody, even for a moment, doubt Gaurav Gill’s achievements? The fact that he is head and shoulders above every Indian rally driver, ever. That he is among the top 5 in the Asia Pacific region, which includes countries like Australia, Japan, NZ and even South East Asia where WRC events are held and whose flags are pasted on the side of WRC cars? That he has devoted his whole life to becoming the absolute best at his sport, like every other Arjuna awardee? What I want to say is that the motorsport community does not need unnecessary controversy at this very, very difficult time. The motorsport community needs to stand strong, introspect after the Jodhpur incident, and take corrective action so that it never, ever happens again. And celebrate Gaurav Gill for who he is — among India’s top athletes.

Evo India