Gaurav Gill is India’s undisputed king of rallying. Even before he was conferred the Arjuna Award by the Government of India this year his three Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) wins, in 2013, 2016 and 2017, made him synonymous with motorsport in the country. With the Arjuna, Gill made history; becoming the first motorsport personality to win it. But, as has happened often in the past, defining moments of history sometimes get tainted when facts expose the distorted claims. In Gill’s case, his achievement listed for the year 2018 in his application for Arjuna Award nomination is grossly misleading, and is essentially, half truth.
In the 13-page Arjuna award application — which was filed with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports under the seal of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) and signed by its Secretary-General Rajan Sayal — it has been claimed that Gill won 11 stages in the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2018.
Gill’s application in the previous years (2018, 2017 and 2016) based on his APRC wins were not sent forward by the Arjuna selection committees. The claim of him winning 11 WRC stages, which has been deemed incorrect by the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), seems to have tipped the Arjuna scales in Gill’s favour. However, it’s difficult to definitively aver to what extent the award committee, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice Mukundakam Sharma, was swayed by the misleading claim because the members of the panel are bound by a non-disclosure bond that they have to sign.
Interestingly, while the award investiture ceremony was in progress at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, a startling nugget of information in a tweet put out by the official handle of the President of India caught the attention of a few. Listing Gill’s achievements, the President’s tweet mentioned that the rally driver won the “FIA World Rally Championship, 2018”. It was this factoid that triggered this investigation into the source of the information.
What is the claim?
The WRC is the pinnacle of rallying in championship format off-road racing. This championship is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the global governing body of the sport, and takes place over 14 rallies spread across the year. For any driver, winning 11 stages of a rally in the WRC would be good enough to give serious bragging rights in the big, fast world of elite rallying.
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A stage in a rally is a timed section of a round. One timed section is connected to another by a public road link. Each round (rally) of the WRC consists of anything between 17 to 24 of such timed sections covering a competitive distance of approximately 315 to 320 km. The winner of a rally is decided by taking into account the best cumulative time posted by a driver over all stages.
A copy of Gill’s Arjuna application accessed by Newsclick reveals that the claim of him winning 11 stages in the WRC is repeated three times in different annexures detailing his achievements (Annexure 1), special justification for the recommendation (Annexure 2) and overall assessment of the person recommended (Annexure 4) . In annexure 1 that gives a breakdown of his achievements for 2018 it’s written:
“Achievements: Won 11 stages in the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) World Rally Championship.
Remarks: The World Rally Championship is the toughest, most competitive motorsports event in the world. Gaurav Gill made his debut in the WRC 2018, taking part in the WRC2 category, and he was welcomed by the WRC itself as a great addition. Despite taking part in only four rallies (the Rally in Sardegna, Rally Finland, Wales Rally GB and the Rally Australia), he made a mark by winning 11 stages. This despite not having the best of cars, best of tyres or budget [Sic].”
This brief description of his immediate achievement in 2018 stands out in stark contrast to the details highlighting his APRC wins and also his performance in years when he did not win the continental title. The application does not mention any specifics of the 11 WRC stage wins. For example, which rally did he win these stages, who are the drivers he beat, etc.
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Similarly, on page 10 of the application (annexure 2, refer point 6), it’s mentioned: “Even though he didn’t have a WRC-worthy car or tyres as they were at the developmental stage, the daredevil showed his class winning as many as 11 stages against the world’s best driver.”
Again on page 13 (annexure 4, refer point 10), the same claim is reiterated. “The world’s finest rally drivers cut their teeth here (APRC) before graduating to the WRC, just like Gaurav has done. Even there, he has produced eye-popping performances, winning 11 stages that are remarkable in themselves [Sic].”
Why is it misleading?
Gill took part in four rounds of the WRC in 2018, as mentioned in his nomination papers, with the support of his long-time sponsor MRF Tyres. In fact, he won his three APRC titles with Team MRF. In the WRC, he entered as a WRC2 (second tier competition) driver in a subclass called RC2 for which the rally cars are built to R5 technical specification laid down by the FIA. Each round of the championship comprises three categories: WRC (RC1 subclass), WRC2 (RC2 subclass) and WRC3/Junior WRC (RC3 to RC5 subclasses).
You can read Gill’s entire application here:
The Indian driver entered WRC2 as a non-registered driver. A non-registered driver in a category means that the competitor is not eligible for points or stage wins in that particular category — in this case WRC2 — and is qualified only for overall classification, points and stage wins. This has been confirmed to Newsclick in unambiguous terms by Andrew Wheately, Category Manager WRC, FIA, to a specific question.
“He (Gill) was registered to score points for the overall WRC but not for the WRC2 series due to the issue with the tyre nomination,” wrote Wheatley in an email response. In simple terms, “tyre nomination” means that the MRF tyres that Gill was running on his Ford Fiesta R5 were not “homologated” (not approved by the FIA) for the WRC2 category.
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The clues to the misleading claim of Gill’s “11 stage wins” are buried in the result sheet of the Kennards Hire Rally Australia 2018 — the last round (rally) of the world championship in 2018. The results sheet of the rally shows that Gill finished 15th in the overall classification out of the 15 drivers who finished the rally, including WRC2 drivers, and fifth in RC2 class. A stage-wise break up of Gill’s timesheet throws up a clearer picture to the actual source of his misleading claim.
It shows that Gill finished “first” in 11 stages in the RC2 class. Since he was a non-registered WRC 2 driver, his fastest times in the RC2 class do not qualify as “stage wins”, in the WRC 2 category. His best finish of the rally was eighth in the WRC category (for which he was eligible) in stage 24.
Wheatley clarified that at best it can be called “class stage win”. “The correct definition is a ‘Class Stage Win’ — WRC is made up of predominantly three classes, WRC Cars, WRC2 cars and WRC3 / Junior WRC Cars — a class stage win is available in each class. However, an overall stage win could normally only be achieved in a WRC class car,” explains the WRC Category Manager of FIA.
On being asked how many stages Gill won in WRC or WRC2, Wheatley provided further clarity. “Gill is registered for the WRC2 class in 2019, but due to a technical restriction on tyres, he was not able to register for WRC2 in 2018, however, he was able to compete on equal terms with the WRC and WRC2 competitors. Australia, 11 fastest times in the RC2 class (WRC2 and other R5 drivers) from 24 stages,’’ he replied.
A non-registered WRC 2 driver is eligible only for an overall podium or overall points and not in the category. “You can be registered for the WRC, without being registered for the WRC2 series. Mr. Gill was registered to score points in the overall WRC championship, but not in the WRC2 class. A driver who scores a sufficient number of stage wins is eligible for the overall WRC classification. However, you need to be registered for the WRC2 series to be eligible to score a podium finish in that class,” wrote Wheatley.
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Interestingly, on November 18, 2018, the last day of Rally Australia, Gill’s former sponsor, MRF Tyres, posted a press note on its facebook page in which they did not claim to have won any stage in the rally. In fact, the note says that the pair of Gill and co-driver Glen Macneall posted the fastest time in some stages in the RC2 class. It makes no sense for Team MRF not to claim its biggest win—11 stage victories—in just its fourth rally in its debut year in WRC. In Rally Sardenga, Rally Finland and Wales Rally GB, Gill did not post the fastest times even in the RC2 class.
FMSCI and Gill’s response
We approached both Gill and the national federation to elaborate the grounds on which 11 stage wins in WRC have been asserted in the nomination papers filed with the Government of India under the signature of the athlete and seal and sign of the FMSCI.
Rajan Sayal, FMSCI Secretary-General, initially tried to avoid Newsclick’s questions saying he had no time to respond over the weekend, When pressed for the official version he responded, by text message, saying, “[Sic] Frankly ur [your] query is not striaghtforward [straightforward] and is vested. A simple query can elicit a simple reaponse [response] . Like hoe [how] fmsci has validated a d [and] checked the facts of 12 stage wins but u r [you are] not implying that. There is more to it than meets the eye and as a journalist its [it is] good to be objective not sensationalise. Looking for a controversy when there is none.”
Gill did not respond to our email, WhatsApp messages or phone calls.
In an unrelated development, Gill was involved in an accident during the Rally of Jodhpur (third round of the Indian National Rally Championship) in Barmer, Rajasthan, on September 21. The accident killed three members of a family who were on the motorbike which entered a rally stage when it was live.
Gill and his co-driver Musa Sherif have been charged with culpabale homicide not amounting to murder (under Section 304 of the IPC), by Barmer Police. Stakeholders and organisers of the rally, Maxperience, and the FMSCI have also been named in the FIR.
Additional superintendent of police Khinv Singh Bhati, the investigating officer, said the police have not managed to locate Gill. “Soon after the accident there were reports that Gill had also met with some injuries and was admitted at a hospital in Jodhpur. But we found that Gill is not in Jodhpur and we are trying to trace him,” the police officer was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
The story will be updated when we receive a response.
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