A turn for the worse: Gill recalls horrific accident

Gaurav Gill is looking forward to working with the police and make racing safer for everyone in the country.

Not often do you get a chance to talk to someone charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the field of sports journalism. Which is why when Gaurav Gill agreed to an interview request from DH, questions on morality waited to gain a voice. They didn’t. Instead, the why’s and how’s of the incident were addressed in depth to shed light on what will undoubtedly go down as the most tragic accident in Indian motorsport history.

Three people trespassing a rally stage in the Jodhpur leg of the Indian National Rally Championship were killed with Gill behind the wheel and Musa Sheriff in the passenger seat. Gill, who was later booked under Section 304A or ‘causing death by negligence’, was granted bail by the Jodhpur Court a few days ago.

While that might come as good news, the Arjuna Awardee didn’t sound relieved in the least. The accident continues to play in a loop, and the ‘thud!’, he says, still rings clear in his head. Excerpts:

Could you take us through the crash?

You don’t expect a bike to be coming at you when you’re on a rally stage, especially not when you’re coming out of a corner at around 160 kmph. I really can’t describe the feeling. It’s not something I have felt before and I have been in very precarious situations in the past. See, for athletes, it (to face this) isn’t an in-built thing. There is nothing that compares to it. I am designed to race in a controlled environment. When that environment is compromised, you begin to ask questions you shouldn’t.

I remember feeling shocked and I couldn’t understand what was going on. I took the turn… turns you can’t back out of. When the impact happened, it felt like a lightning strike. I have had my share of accidents in the past, but the thing with accidents is that you always know, a second or so before, that something is going to go wrong. In that split second, you’re mentally prepared. This, though, was just a flash.

Describe the exact moment?

When I came out of the turn, I saw a bike. I jammed the brakes but they were a few feet away…. I held the steering tight and closed my eyes. Even Musa covered his eyes with the pace notes. It was the loudest sound I have ever heard. I was also scared that we had been hurt and we only didn’t feel anything because of the adrenaline. There is always the possibility of bike debris coming through the windshield and piercing us.

What about the trauma in the aftermath?

I am not built to deal with things like this. It could have happened to anyone (drivers) but it, unfortunately, had to be me. I felt terrible that they lost their lives for nothing. I am not the driver I used to be. I have a family now and I understand the gravity of all this. We as drivers understand consequences better than most people. We are constantly aware of consequences, that’s the nature of the sport. But this was a jolt. 

How did the family react? 

My wife (a doctor) didn’t know what to say for a while. It was very shocking for all of us. My family wasn’t prepared for this, I don’t think anyone can be. It is something that comes back to haunt me almost every day. You can’t take these feelings away, and inevitably I breakdown. As a person, it is natural to assume the fault is yours. I feel guilty often even though I know and everyone around me knows that I couldn’t do anything about it. It isn’t easy to get over it.

With this incident still on your mind, why did you decide to race the next leg in Kerala?

I don’t know how to do anything else in life. The best way to get away from it is to get into it. This is my livelihood.

How hard has it been to handle the drop from the highs of being conferred the Arjuna Award only a couple of months ago?

It’s so interesting. I got so much love and support after the Arjuna award. A few weeks later, I had a mob wanting to kill me. Literally. It just goes to show how life works. I wasn’t at all prepared for any of this. All I wanted to do was drive and now I have to take on all these things. Interestingly, politics become a part of the equation. You tell me, how do I as an athlete deal with that?

Is there any truth to you going into hiding after the accident?

To add to all the trauma I was going through, these reports surfaced. I was in Jodhpur for days after the incident, talking to the police the entire time. I didn’t run away. Everyone who wanted to know where I was knew where I was. Even after returning to Delhi, I have been in constant touch with the police. These claims hurt me and my family. We don’t have to be treated like criminals when all I was doing was my job.    

Did you at some stage think about how you were going to break the news to your kids?

The thought occurred to me not long after the accident and it hounds me to this day. I don’t know. The kids are very naive and they won’t understand the complexity of the sport now. I decided not to tell them, yet. I don’t know if exposing them to this so early is a good thing. I also don’t know how they will react to me once they do find out. It’s tough as a father.

What can be done to avoid such an accident in the future?

We can ensure race marshals are more responsible. I am looking to work with the police to see if I can help raise awareness. More people lose lives to road accidents in India than anywhere else in the world, and most of them lose their lives simply because they are not attentive. Think about it, had he (the deceased) waited for five more seconds, he would have been alive.

I am not in touch with the family (of the deceased) anymore, but I did speak to them after the accident. They were very understanding. Plenty of them tried to stop him from getting on the track but he didn’t pay heed to anyone. Even his wife, apparently, told him to wait for a few minutes. As I said, it all comes down to a little patience.  You won’t come across this situation in the south (of India). That’s because motorsport has been around for a long time there and people are aware. People in the north aren’t used to it. I have suggested to the FMSCI (Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India) that we should have contender rounds at small venues. They should host small events with 10 cars and see if it’s viable before running the national championship there.

 

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