India’s top rally driver Gaurav Gill does not expect his performance to improve drastically after being nominated for the Arjuna award but he is confident that becoming a “government-certified” athlete will give motorsport the recognition it craves in the country.

The 37-year-old was being overlooked for the Arjuna for the past three years. In 2018, there was consensus in the selection panel that the three-time Asia Pacific Rally Champion deserved the recognition but missed out in the year of Commonwealth and Asian Games.

“Of course I was a little heartbroken [at being ignored in the past] but it did not affect my performance. As a sportsman, it is my duty to perform irrespective of the conditions. It is not that that if you get the award, you perform better,” Gill told PTI after being shortlisted for this year’s Arjuna awards last week, a first for Indian motorsport.

“Of course, getting the Arjuna means you are among the best sportspersons in the country. That means you are basically a certified athlete by the government and that gives a massive boost to our sport,” he added.

Due to the sport being niche, even Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula 1 driver, was not considered for Arjuna award even though he was bestowed with the Padma Shri in 2010.

With Gill finally getting his due, he is equally ecstatic about creating a window for others.

“It should break the barriers for the entire fraternity and allow people to consider this as a career option and not just a hobby,” said the Delhi-based driver.

Drawing a parallel with golf and shooting 10-15 years ago, Gill is confident that his Arjuna award will help his sport reach the masses.

“The next step is to educate them about the sport and ensure we have more Arjuna awardees. Since we also use equipment, I would like see the taxes and import duties being done away with like it is in the case of shooters.

“We are not using them for sale, we are using it for sport and we should not pay taxes for that. So many shooters are coming up now, we should learn from that. Back in the day, golf and shooting were considered luxury sport but not anymore.”

After the Formula 1 race in India was dropped from the calendar following the 2013 edition, the popularity of motorsport in the country nose-dived. The sport did not even have government recognition until 2015.

Gill, who will be doing select rounds of WRC 2 this season, feels government recognition is must if a sport has to produce champions.

“We have to be supported by the government. Once the government recognises your sport and awards you, people will follow. You make them a star. There is light at the end of the tunnel now. It is a career option.

“I have given 18 years of my life to motorsport and thank the government for recognising my achievements.”

Gill added that his Arjuna is bound to give a further fillip to the growing rallying scene in India.

“Rallying has become very popular in India. Every rally gets about 60-70 entries, it is massive and probably the biggest in Asia. With this award, you will see more interest in rallying. Now people will start thinking, if can do it they can do it too,” he added.