After taking on Kari, I now found myself in a no-holds-barred dogfight at the Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) in Chennai.
Well, the heading might come across as a little unconventional, probably because the terms 'racing' & 'restraint' aren’t usually associated with each other. While this might be agreeable to a seasoned racer, for a novice rider like me, this transition, from overcoming the fear of going all-out through a corner to enjoying that very speed, becomes a defining moment. You see, if I look back at my previous track outing, in retrospect, I’d like to agree that I was playing it safe. But I can’t blame myself too much as it was a new track for me.
However, as I started my journey to the Madras Motor Race Track (MMRT) for the second round, I already had a crucial weapon in my arsenal – familiarity. As all riders underwent their selection round at the same track in March, all of us were a bit more confident, both in our ability to improve & do some quick laps as well. As I started the weekend with the practice session, immediately I was able to connect better with my bike. While I could only manage the best possible lap time of 02:48.5 during my selection run, I had been able to shave off an incredible 18-seconds off that time by setting a 02:30.9 by the end of the practice session.
While this provided a big confidence boost, the nerve-wracking moment came just an hour later as it was time to replicate the results in qualifying. Why nerve-wracking? Because I’ve been known to breach the thin line between confidence & over-confidence a bit too often! To ensure I didn’t flounder in qualifying, the best approach seemed to get rid of all thoughts and just remember my braking points and which gear each corner had to be taken in. During the session, I did feel that I was carrying more speed into & out of the corners while taking greater lean angles. And as it turns out, I was right. When I came back to the pits after the session ended, I couldn’t help but give myself a hearty pat on the back! I had just shaved off another 5 seconds off my practice time, clocking my best lap at 02:25.3. However, my grid position wasn’t too convincing of this achievement as I had once again qualified 9th.
As race day came, I kept my mind busy by going over the strategy over & over whilst figuring out the best possible approach to get a clean and productive start. As expected, the front-runners quickly disappeared from my sight by the end of Lap 1. While they were in a battle of their own ahead (which, by the way, witnessed some classic dogfights), I was in a heated battle of my own with Bikewale’s Neil Nair (#5) & Autocar India’s Firoze Irani (#4) for 7th place. Each of us had our own pros & cons. While Nair & Irani had a huge weight advantage over me, I had greater stability. Neil outpaced me on the straights but I was faster through the corners. Firoze outranked me in pace, both in the corners & straights, but his very late breaking saw him going off the track often.
Be as it may, despite the incidents and perilously close over-taking manoeuvres, the race turned out to be a clean one (for me, at least). While I had started from 9th, I managed to close the proceedings by finishing in 8th place, just 0.36 seconds behind Firoze Irani in 7th. More importantly, the race panned out as though directly lifted from one of the MotoGP seasons, replete with nail-biting moves and an unfortunate crash. Being a novice, I was happy to accept the thrill & adrenaline rush over my grid position.
Next up, we’ll be competing at the Buddh International Circuit sometime in October 2019, which could well be the season finale for this year’s championship.