What if I had started racing at an early age? – it’s a question that has plagued me often, and one, that despite my level-headedness, I’ve never been able to answer. Those who know me, know that I always have an answer to everything, and often it’s the right one. But do I have it in me to race? If you are wondering why it’s such a difficult question to answer, I’ll say this: racing isn’t just about going fast around a track; it’s about going fast around the track with a bunch of people who are willing to push themselves to their limits. And so, when one fine day, Shivank posed the following question, “Paliwal, do you want to go for the TVS Young Media Racer Program this year?”, my answer was a resounding YES!
However, before I could race, I needed to qualify for the racing season. And that is why TVS had organised a day-long session at the track. We had classroom sessions explaining the rules of the track and the best ways to get the most out of the motorcycle. All this was required because there were 31 of us, and only 12 of us were going to make the cut for the Young Media Racer Program. Plus, we needed an FMSCI license for the race, and the day-long track session was the mandatory training required to get one. In the second half of the day, we were required to set lap times, based on which the fastest 12 were to be selected for the racing.
For the first couple of sessions, I took it easy. I tried to make the most of the opportunity of following the instructor around the track, doing multiple training exercises and learning the right lines for my particular motorcycle. TVS was kind enough to put markers on the track, which helped immensely in this regard. By the end of the second session, I was able to hit more than 80 per cent of the markers every single time I went around the lap, which made me feel good about myself.
Now, it was time to practice the race start and braking. A bunch of us were to launch off the start line one after the other, which meant that we had to be stationary on the track for some time under the scorching sun in our leather riding suits. Things had been going smoothly so far, but, then, I suddenly felt the rising temperature inside my suit as I stood on the track waiting for my turn to launch.
It soon became unbearable, so much so that I started to lose focus. At this point, I just wanted the session to be over, so that I could go lie down somewhere in the shade. It’s safe to say that I had an average race start and even worse braking performance. But, at least, my instructors were happy to point out my mistakes. By the time I was out of the suit and heading for lunch, I had begun to overheat, and it was at this point I realised that my body wasn’t in the fittest of conditions for racing, and if I wanted to push myself to the limit on the track, I would have to train my body accordingly.
Finally, around two in the afternoon, we went out for our practice session, which was to be followed by the qualifying session. I had some energy saved, so once on the track, I started pushing after the out lap. You should know at this point that we didn’t know our lap times, which meant that to know if I was fast or not, all I had to rely on was – for lack of a better phrase – how fast I felt. Honestly, I did feel that I was fast enough, but the feeling was intermittent, for at times, my concentration levels would suddenly dip, and I would lose a bunch of time either in a hard braking zone or just because someone was in the way. After the session, I was exhausted and desperately needed a breather before I went out again. But time was not in my favour, so after a few sips of water, I was again back on the track.
It was a repeat performance. I was fast in some places, and slow in others, and had no idea if I was going through or not. I felt confident most of the time, but there was no way to know for sure because it is never over until the fat lady sings. So, finally, when Vinod from TVS told us our times, I heaved a sigh of relief. I had come in ninth with a time of 2.29.7.
On the day, I didn’t have the pace to match the fastest people in the group – I was about 10 seconds off the leader. But I did make it through to the races, and I will have (hopefully) enough time to make up for my current lack of pace.
In retrospect, I think, the biggest impediment to my pace was my lack of fitness, which, needless to say, must change. A light fitness routine for a month or so – that’s all I have until the first race – should do the trick when I find myself on the race track again to answer the biggest ‘what if’ question of my life.