Shivank’s teenage dreams of becoming a full-time racer finally see the light of the day, albeit with a bit of shower and disappointment thrown in on the first outing.
Whether you’re a motorsport nut or not, there’s a good possibility that – at least once in your life - you must have really wanted to take up motor racing as a profession. Don’t lie to yourself - you have thought about it. I did, too. While I can’t comment on what went wrong in your life, I know for a fact that my dreams were shattered quite unceremoniously as I grew up and realised that cutting into this racing profession is not all that simple. Not only does it require you to be hugely talented – very fast that is – you also need to have a solid financial backing. I possessed neither, especially the latter.
Thankfully, I’ve now got a job that allows me to have a few privileges. Being an auto journo, I have now driven and ridden around all three racetracks of the country many times. I have also taken part in one-off motorcycle races previously. So, in a way, you could say that I have come closest to being a racer - even if it lasted just for a day.
It seems there’s a lot more in store for me, though. You see, the good folks at TVS recently called us and asked if I’d be interested in their “Young Media Racer” program. To break it short, the TVS Young Media Racer Program will have a full season of racing, wherein twelve auto journos will participate in three races at Kari racetrack (Coimbatore) and MMRT (Chennai). There could also be a bonus fourth and final round at the BIC, Noida. So, I will be participating as a full-time racer? Yup, dreams do find the means.
Back to School
If you think you can straightaway check-in at a racetrack and go on shattering lap times, you might be in for a rude awakening. Outright speed is all well, but to go faster around a race track requires the absolutely correct technique, while you also need to understand the rules and regulations of the sport inside-out. Most importantly, you need to unlearn all the “bad” habits that you’ve picked up from street riding.
Now to ensure that no one skips this, FMSCI has actually made it mandatory for newcomers to join a training school before getting into a race-suit. In fact, nowadays you only get your race license once you get a certificate from a racing school. Fortunately, TVS had it sorted for us guys. Although our first race was scheduled between June 9 and 11 in Coimbatore, TVS first flew us to the Chennai racetrack so that we get done with our training session and certification.
The training program was divided into two parts – theory and track sessions. The classroom session was headed by Emmanuel Jebaraj, a multiple-race winner at the national level, while on the track, our progress was monitored by the trio of TVS’ ace racers - Jagan Kumar, Harry Sylvester and K.Y. Ahmed.
While everyone of us wanted to hop on to the race-spec RTR 200 and get going, the theoretical lessons would make all the difference here. In the first session, Jebaraj made us aware of all the race flags and signs. Following that came the racing lessons. Braking, body position, turn-in, racing line, throttle modulation and all that was covered in theory, followed by on-track sessions. Although I have done multiple track sessions before, I kind of felt out of touch in the first two sessions. Slowly and steadily, though, I was able to pick up the pace and felt more comfortable with the bike – which meant I was posting faster lap times after every session. While I had no clear idea as to how much I improved over the course of the day, Jagan told me that my body posture is fine and that my average speed is “good”. Although he suggested that I should brake a bit later and be more aggressive on corner exit.
Fast forward to June 9, it’s time for the first race of the season. I took an early morning flight from Delhi to Coimbatore and was headed directly to the Kari Speedway from the airport. Usually, I get quite frisky when I get to ride motorcycles around a racetrack. But, this time, I was, erm, kind of nervous. And I can explain why. The problem lies with the track itself. Having ridden around Kari twice before, I still find the circuit to be a bit too tight and bumpy for my liking. Of course, track day regulars always tell and rave about its “technical” layout, but technical and fun don’t always go hand in hand for everyone. The last time I rode around Kari, the only thing I remember doing was trying not to crash, which definitely wasn’t my definition of fun.
Back on the track, we only had a 30 minutes practice session on day 1. But, as soon as it began, I was in for a bigger surprise. The last section of the track – starting from turn 12 to turn 14 - was virtually missing from the circuit. And, by missing, I mean there wasn’t any tarmac. The track surface was in tatters and it was akin to riding on a street road filled with gravel. It was really a scary affair – which was also clearly reflected in my lap times. I was placed tenth by the end of the session.
The next morning kicked off with our qualifying session, while the race was scheduled for the afternoon the same day. I knew I need to push harder, especially around the final section, in order to better my time from practice. A quick discussion with faster riders also revealed that I was taking wrong lines – they said, I could avoid the patchy section by taking a wider line. That way, I could find more grip, and hence, more speed.
The qualifying session began, and with the aforementioned information wired in my brain, I tried to be braver and followed the advice that I had just been given. I had a couple of scary moments, but I wasn’t willing to be dead last in qualifying. 15 minutes and some 10-odd laps later, the session was over.
Moments after returning to the pit, the timings were out. And, voila, I was sixth fastest! But, that wasn’t just the best thing. I had improved my time by over seven seconds from my practice time – which, as one of my fellow racers pointed out, was mighty impressive. I was actually feeling quite confident after this. And, to be honest, I also believed that I could have gone faster by a second or two - hindsight is always 20/20, you know.
Now the only way to see if I could really go any faster will happen in the actual race. Which - drumroll - never happened! You see, just 15 minutes before the race start, the rain Gods showed up in full force. The race officials delayed the start till about 5 pm - in the hope to see clear skies - but that didn’t happen. Eventually, the race was cancelled.
As disappointed as all of us were, one of my colleagues thought this was a good time to reflect on the life of a real racer. If we were this disappointed over a cancelled race - where, truth to be told, we didn’t even put a single penny from our own pockets - just imagine the plight of all the teams and racers, who spend their hard-earned money, in addition to putting their blood, sweat, and sometimes bones, too, for a race weekend only to hear that it’s been called off? Maybe, motorsports isn’t just about being fast and money after all…
Philosophical insights aside, our next race should be held in a month’s time in Chennai. Let’s hope to finally have some real on-track action there then.