Delhi - India's ace rallyist Gaurav Gill, who has held top spot among Asian drivers in World Rally rankings but did not score high on home turf last year, is readying for his first challenge on the Indian motorsport circuit in 2013 - the 11th Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm.
The six-day marathon cross-country motorsport event will run through Rajasthan Feb 18-23.
The rally is the pride of Rajasthan, given the highly challenging conditions, tough stages and spectacular terrain, ranging from desert stretches and vast salt flats to deceptively simple dirt tracks. The rally will traverse about 2,200 km this year.
With a world ranking close to the top 20 and with international titles in Indonesia, Australia and the Rally of Japan, Gill has been one of the most recognisable name in rallying.
He won the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare last year. But at the Desert Storm 2012, the high-speed racer was bogged down by the dunes of the Thar. At the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm and also the 3rd J&K Bank Mughal Rally held in Kashmir in June 2012, Gill was listed as 'DNFâ (Did Not Finish) - the category feared by all rallyists.
For the desert challenge this year, Gillâs top competitor is Suresh Rana, who drives for Team Maruti. Rana, who hails from Manali, is a homegrown hero. He has won the Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya, one of the top ten toughest motorsport rallies of the world, a record eight times.
Gill does not agree that his major rival at the Desert Storm is Rana.
âMy team mates are going to be my major rivals and competitors,â said Gill.
Gill drives for Team Mahindra. His team-mates are Karamjit Singh of Malaysia, Lohit Urs of Bangalore and Sunny Sidhu of Chandigarh.
In the rallying circuit, though, it is known that Rana is among the the top favourites for the crown.
Rana was âOverall Firstâ at the Desert Storm in 2012, and has won the event earlier too. This year, he will drive a Grand Vitara for the challenge.
Gill will drive a Mahindra XUV 500 for the event this year - the same as last year. Gill says he had faced major four-wheel drive issues at the Desert Storm 2012.
âHere I was competing for the top spot, and the four-wheel drive got stuck. Can you believe the mental torture I would have gone through,â he asked.
Gill points out that despite the mechanical problems, he recorded the fastest stage overall at the Desert Storm by a diesel vehicle in the history of Indian rallying.