In conversation with M-Sport Team Principal, Rich Millener: Gill’s return to WRC2
Rally Australia would have marked Gaurav Gill’s return to active rallying; What does Rich have to say about Gill’s performance last year and the 2019 Turkish rally?
Sirish Chandran: So how was he? You ran him last year also in WRC2. How was he as a driver compared to the other guys that u ran in WRC2?
Rich Millener: He did very well. I think you have to consider that he didn’t have a test before the rally in a new car, it was a different car to last year. We had a few problems with the ferry, and the car was late, so he only ended up with a couple of hours of testing before the rally. Turkey is probably one of the most difficult rallies in the calendar, how rough it is and everything. We, unfortunately, had a couple of punctures, we had a transmission issue on the last day. If you take away the problems and look at the actual stage times, on a few stages he was very competitive. I think he did a good job, to be honest, considering everything else.
SC: Last year when he drove in Australia, he was very quick, he was leading the category also. Was it because there was not much competition or was he actually fast?
RM: Australia is a rally where there were less number of people, but there is still competition there. He still had to set the times, and his times were very good. I think he's a very strong driver, and he's been learning that WRC is very difficult and different to maybe the national rallies he’s been doing in India and the APRC events he was doing, because the competition there and when you come to WRC, is the strongest anywhere in the World. It’s a big jump up, but he has reacted very quickly, I think from the limited number of rallies he has done, he's performing very well.
SC: What’s his potential?
RM: I think he has the capability of winning rallies in the WRC2 category. That should be the first goal. And the goal after that is to break up to the pace of the WRC2 Pro guys and ultimately if you can get to WRC. In any kind of motorsport, funding is a big thing; he has some strong sponsors behind him now, with the JK guys. He’s a niche market in the fact that he’s the best Indian rally driver there is. We’ve seen in rallying that countries and nations, are very keen to have a strong person in WRC because its such a Worldwide championship. In the position he’s in he has a lot of potential, but it’s the same old thing, all the things have to go in the right place, all the boxes be ticked in and slowly move on, but its finding as much time possible in the car, but the costs are quite high. So you have to have good results when you come to the events.
SC: He will be driving in Australia again, any plans for him? Are you going to do any testing before the rally?
RM: It’s very difficult for us, because as a team we are not allowed to test with the World Rally cars, we can test only with the WRC2 cars, on the Monday before the rally which will be quite good as it will still be a relevant road. But it will probably only be 60-70km. Yeah, he will get some testing. Hopefully that will give him some good experience before the event.
SC: Do you know of the accident that happened in India with him in the last rally? Has he spoken to you after that?
RM: To be honest my only words with him were, ‘I hope he’s okay’. I fully understand that its such a difficult situation he’s in. When you drive rally cars, you put your faith in rallies that have properly organized and informed the spectators or the villages where you are going, that what’s happening. It’s a very difficult situation, and of course, I don’t know anything more but it’s going to be sad for the people who are involved. As a championship and a sport, rally takes safety incredibly seriously especially in a championship like WRC. It’s not even a goal, it’s an absolute must, and safety is paramount when we do this competition. So many thousands of people come to watch this sport and we can’t afford to have any problems. It must be very horrible for him, and we hope that everything gets sorted; we also support him and hope we see him back in WRC more often.
Also read: Gaurav Gill speaks up!
SC: Do you think Gill is at a slight disadvantage because he’s up against drivers who are quite younger than him
RM: Just have a look at who’s leading the rally tonight – He’s 46 ad nine times world champion, and he is 15 years older than the youngest guy here. I personally think the best rally drivers are around 30-35, because they are calmer, they have the experience, they’re a little bit more controlled, the hormones have calmed down a little bit. At the same time, as you grow older, it’s a messed-up life. You’re reactions get slower and your ability to react and recover and be at the top of your game is harder to control. But like I say, Loeb has done it today, he has proven how you can still be competitive. In rallying, age is not a big issue.
SC: But Loeb is a nine-time world champion, and Gill hasn’t had experience with guys as competitive as this.
RM: No, but this is where the key is to find the budget available to compete at this level. If you can’t compete at this level, then you will struggle to move up. He needs to find as much budget as possible and do as many events next year. The World championship has been decided, but there will still be some competition now and his goal in Australia is to be fastest R5 car, and obviously beat all the national competitors in the AP4 cars in Australia and show his potential.
SC: How different is the new R5 compared to last year’s car?
RM: Its very different. Nearly everything has been redesigned and everything is new.
SC: In terms of stages times, per km how much quicker will it be?
RM: That will be one second a km
SC: It is a big step isn't it?
RM: Yes it is a big step. We had a really successful older car, but we had to catch up with the others too.
SC: Are you on pace with the Skodas?
RM: Yes, we are now in pace with all the cars