Dilbagh Gill, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, ACE Championship

Gill was a pioneer of the motorsport electrification world as the CEO and Team Principle of Mahindra Racing, competing in the FIA ABB Formula E World Championship from its inaugural season in 2014/15 to the current day, to great success with multiple race victories and podiums in the world’s first all-electric street racing championship. As the Team Principle and CEO, Dilbagh not only managed the on-track activity but also pioneered the sustainability and technology transfer programs, making history when Mahindra Racing became the first Formula E team to receive a three-star Sustainability Accreditation from the FIA. This made Mahindra Racing the “Greenest Team in Motorsport” and the only carbon-neutral team since its inception. In a conversation with CXO Outlook, Gill talks about the innovations happening in motorsport, the importance of promoting sustainability, and much more.

In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting innovations happening in motorsport right now? 

Electric is now a part of innovation – it’s been around for a decade or so. For me, the next bit of innovation I’m interested in is to see the digital and physical world coming together in motorsport; the esport world, and the motorsport world. I do believe we will see more of this starting to merge at different levels in the next decade.

I also believe that racing is going to become a lot more digital – I think we are going to start seeing more of the personality of drivers. Even though the way, these new camera angles work, allows us to see from a driver’s perspective.

From a fuel perspective, I sit on the FIA Electric and New Energy Championship Commission, and there are going to be alternate fuels being looked at going forward. In terms of motorsport, it is going to be electric, but what powers this will be hydrogen and a couple of other technologies that are coming in.

This sport has the most expensive equipment. It is the biggest barrier to entry. I believe we are going to start seeing innovation where the cost of equipment is going to start coming down and largely this will come from the esport world with simulators.

How important is it to take motorsport championships to new territories, and what challenges have you faced in expanding into new markets? 

This is why we started ACE – to look for talent globally and particularly in Asia. As far as new territories, there is a lot of talent coming out of Africa as a continent and we want to look at how we can address that talent, from both the driving and engineering sides.

Some territories are easier to get people working from all over the world. We had early conversations with some nation-states and sorting work permits for multiple people was impossible. We wanted to give everyone a chance to break into the motorsport world, without visa barriers.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the major events leading to the foundation of ACE Championship? 

There’s always been a fascination in my mind to try and do something in sport and when I looked at where I could contribute, it prompted the start of a technology company in 2002 which could work around sport.

I was quite lucky that the first customer we got we FIFA, and fours year later we got the official tag as the IT services provider for the World Cup. We did 82 events with FIFA, including some Men’s World Cups, etc.

That company was acquired by Mahindra, meaning I came to work for Mahindra through that deal – this prompted a shift towards motorsport and in 2011 we started with a MotoGP (Moto3) team, which we worked with for 8 years. We had eight bikes in Moto3, and today five of our ex-riders are in MotoGP – all five have won races. So, there is a bit of a history of us scouting people at a young age and bringing them through to the World Championship level.

We started Mahindra Racing in 2013, with a first race in 2014. We wanted to be a team with an Indian background but with a global outlook…although talent scouting was not our focus, I did notice over the years that there was a gap in bringing talent through and into motorsport from all backgrounds.

What steps is your company taking to promote sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of motorsport?  

At Mahindra, sustainability was one of the most important things. We were the first Formula E team to be 3-star accredited and were declared as the only motorsport team which was net carbon zero since inception. So, sustainability is in the genes of what we have been trying to do.

In the last couple of years, sustainability is no longer a differentiator, rather it has become a part of what needs to be there. So, when we look at brand pillars, we never put sustainability – it is the foundation of the building, not a pillar. It will be built into everything that we do. From Day 1 with ACE we will be working to be net carbon zero and will be signing with the UNFCCC. We will work with the FIA to secure 3-star accreditation.

How do you see the future of motorsport evolving over the next decade, and what role will ACE Championship play in shaping that future?  

Phygital – where the physical and digital world start merging and we want to see the motorsport world moving towards the phygital world in the future and ACE would like to be at the center of that.

One of the innovations we are closely looking at is creating a marketplace for real-time advertising through a race by putting screens on a car.

Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring professionals who are looking to break into the motorsport industry?  

‘Go give it a chance.’ A motorsport team is a microcosm of any company and there are all types of roles available, from marketing, to finance, to operations.

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