The first race of the TVS Young Media Racer programme saw Shivank miss the podium by just a whisker – or so he says...
“Finished just off the podium, you see” – that’s what I’ve been telling everyone after having finished fourth in my first race of the TVS One-Make Media Racer program. Sounds a little too smug, right? And more so when you consider the fact that my lap times were three seconds adrift of the guy in third. But then, the reason I am beating my chest over the race result comes from the fact that I really felt confident and more competitive in my last outing on the track. So much so that I honestly thought that I had a good shot to be on the podium.
Technically, the race I am going to talk about in this write-up was the second race of the season for us guys – the first one was supposed to be held on July 10 in Coimbatore, but unfortunately it got washed out, thanks to heavy rains on the race day. Fast forward to July 8, we arrive at the Madras racetrack for the second round. It was business as usual – the first day we had our practice and qualifying sessions, while the next day we’ll go racing!
In comparison to the tighter layout of Kari racetrack in Coimbatore – where I am usually praying and trying not to end up in the grass or tyre barriers – I much prefer the MMRT’s flowing and smooth tarmac – okay, it’s still a very bumpy track but all I am saying is that it’s easier to go faster here because I enjoy riding here more. That said, it’s a technically confusing track to get the hang of - getting the right braking points, hitting apexes and mastering every corner will always be a hard job around this circuit. While a perfect lap at the MMRT hasn’t yet happened to me, I am happy to report that each time I go out, I improve on my lap times here.
In the 20 minutes practice session on day 1, I finished fourth fastest. The guy in third - Janak Sorap from Motoring magazine – was around 4 seconds faster. However, my main concern were the chaps in fifth and sixth – Aatish Mishra (Evo India) and Abhik Das (Auto Today) since we three were all within a second of each other. In the qualifying session, I improved my time by over a second, but Aatish turned out to be even faster as his best lap of the session bettered mine by almost two seconds. This obviously meant I lost my position to Aatish and qualified fifth. Abhik stayed in sixth but he was breathing down my neck as well – our best lap times were only separated by less than a second. The race was going to be interesting – for the three of us, to say the least.
Although I’ve taken part in a race before, it’s always a surreal feeling when you’re lined-up on the grid, waiting for the lights to go out. And when the lights eventually go out, it actually brings a lot of relief. You see, before the race you’re always psyched out and every second leading to the start will make you feel those proverbial butterflies in your stomach. It’s an awkward feeling. However, once the clutch drops, you forget about everything in the world – all you care about then is to figure out ways to go faster and faster!
Back on the grid, I was going through a similar drill. I was hoping to get a perfect launch so as to put myself in a position from where I could try and fight for the podium. Hope, however, doesn’t work in the world of motor racing. Practice does. And since I had forgotten to do the launch practice, again, I was obviously going to pay for it. As soon as the lights went out, I saw Abhik having a lightning start as he flashed past me. I am not saying I had a rubbish start, but credit where it’s due, Abhik’s launch was extraordinary as he moved up to third position before T1. Aatish was running in fifth and I was right on his tail before T1. In no time though I saw a lighter rider from behind sneak in between us two before entering turn 2 - I was demoted to seventh position.
In the following set of corners – T2 and T3 – I tried to outbrake my new rival, but just couldn’t find my way through. T3 to T4 is flat out and I usually don’t roll off there. However, because of the rider in front I couldn’t go full throttle through this section. Around the same time I noticed Abhik and Janak enter T4 while our pack of three was still exiting the kink after T3. I wasn’t keen on losing more time now and, thankfully, the rider in sixth ran wide in T5, allowing me to clinch back a place. I was now going faster – or so I thought – and before T7 I was back on Aatish’s tail. As luck would have it, Aatish’s bike’s gear lever came off while exiting the very same corner and that was the end of his race – I was now back to fifth position.
Meantime, Janak took his position back from Abhik - albeit both of them were too far off. However, this was just the first lap and there are four more to go. With that in mind, I really pushed for it. I was braking later, and harder, while I’d now open the throttle a little earlier to gain some time. I was also leaning the bike more and scrapping the pegs. This grueling stint continued for the next two laps and I could see I was getting closer to Abhik. Janak, meanwhile, was lapping much faster now and I could see him disappearing with my podium hopes and the trophy.
At the start of lap 4, I was about three-four bike lengths behind Abhik. I was all set to fight and take fourth position from him, but it wasn’t to be. I mean, I overtook him but rather unceremoniously as he just went wide around T1. As he revealed later on, he had some fueling problems as his bike started spluttering on the main straight. From then on, it was a lonely run to the chequered flag.
In the end, I couldn’t help but think that I brought some real bad luck to my opponents in this race – which, from my point of view, is no bad thing. However, I’d have really liked to fight for my position rather than having it served on a platter.
Having said that, I felt a definitive improvement this time around. I am finally feeling that I am going a bit faster than before. To give you a perspective, the first time I went racing, I finished dead last. The second time I went racing, I finished sixth. And the third time – which was this race – I’ve finished just off the podium, which I think is personally a great achievement. And if it’s true that you only run a race against yourself and blah, blah, blah, then I believe I am definitely winning at it...