Gaurav Gill has had a good season; not his best, but good nonetheless. He is riding a minor six-point lead over Team MRF Skoda team-mate Ole Christian Veiby as the participants go into the 2017 Asia Pacific Rally Championship. Having already claimed two APRC titles in 2013 and 2016 - the latter coming on the back of a perfect season by the rally driver with six straight first-place finishes - Gill now looks confident of a third championship at the FIA 2017 APRC India Rally of Chikmagalur this weekend. OVERDRIVE caught up with the defending champion for a look at the mind behind the confidence.
OVERDRIVE: 2017 has been a mixed season, but you have still come out on top of the championship standings. Take us through the highlights and low points for you?
Gaurav Gill: We had a good start to the year at New Zealand (Whangarei), but then began to struggle a bit with the damper setup. The Australia Rally was a completely new rally and event for us. Despite this we managed a strong second place finish there. The China Rally was withdrawn due to some logistical issues, after which came Malaysia (Johor), where our team has always been strong. My car had alternator issues during that rally which forced me to drop to ninth place during some stages before jumping back to second for the finish. The Japan Rally was good for us as we had an outright win, leading from the first stage.
OD: Despite all the ups and downs, you have a six-point lead in the championship. How important is that going into the final round? Also with Chikmagalur being your home rally on the APRC calendar, what is the advantage you feel you have over your team-mate Ole Christian Veiby?
GG: Six points is a small margin. And I really don't care. Any of that does not matter at this point. While it is true about the home advantage, I feel that you are better off knowing the car, rather than the track. So it is a catch-22 situation for me as I know the rally, but not the car. My team-mate who competes in other competitions through the year has more time in the car. He does 25 events as against 5 for me in a year. So it will pretty much have to be going flat-out through this rally for me.
OD: Having a new team-mate (Ole Christian Veiby) this season, what is the team dynamic like this time around? How different is it from the previous year, when you have talked about attention being skewed towards your team-mate within the team?
GG: Not really. OC (Veiby) is the Skoda team factory driver and I am from the MRF side. There are basically two different teams within our team. The advantage is that he gets his own travel crews and trainers and some other support from the Skoda side. But as a competitor, it is great to have OC as he is a good driver and we have had a good season despite the odds. It gives me a chance to show that I can match up with him through the various competition stages.
OD: You also have a new co-driver in Stephane Prevot. Tell us how it is working with a new co-driver after such a long association with your previous partner Glenn McNeall?
GG: It would have been ideal for me to be matched with an older, more experienced co-driver. This would really help me manage better. But Glenn had different priorities. A driver and co-driver's bond is that of a friendship it is a deep relationship as you are partners. This was how my relationship with Glenn was, as we had been associated for around 10 years. So it was really difficult to switch from that. The association with Stephane is very new compared to that.
OD: Taking all these factors into account, what is your feeling going into the final round at Chikmagalur? Any specific changes you have made to the car for this round? And are you aiming for a third title in the APRC this time?
GG: Well, I am feeling very positive this time around. I am confident but not over-confident about my chances. As for the setup, we are trying on new dampers for the first time at the shakedown, but that event is not an ideal representation of the rest of the rally, so we will know better once we are going through the stages. In that sense, I am aware of the stages but also equally aware that this is a very technical rally, with the surface and terrain. So I would not want to make any mistakes that might cost me the win. And yes, of course, I want to win it!