Between the Lines

I think I need to author a procrastinator’s handbook because I add so many reminders to my devices and recall things without the reminders. I am afraid the reminder will go off any minute like it’s a real breathing organism. Just like I was constantly worried I didn’t give my ‘2 piece’ article on my 1st stint at track school to Sanjeev (of Rotormouth fame).
What irony eh! Where here it is!

Having tasted motorcycling like a lion cub tastes blood, I was suddenly that person with ‘eyes are bigger than the stomach’ syndrome at the buffet – the buffet in question being everything motorcycling. I wanted to try different styles of bikes, ride every terrain, wear every gear, mess with every template and just dig my paws into it all till I figured what I fancied and what didn’t fancy me back. Track experience, up until a year ago, was something I admired from a distance but didn’t think was possible. I imagined it to be something for the media or elite exclusive or that one needed some serious pizazz in the bank to show up at track school – like that frumpy 1st timer at a huge fashion show.

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Eventually, social media played a key role in nudging me to consider exploring one. It was showcased as cost effective, gear and equipment were arranged if you didn’t have either and it was all in a controlled, safe and learning environment with abled trainers. I went about doing my research, called folks, asked 50000 questions and simultaneously saved ₹₹.

Without naming names, I was keen on attending 1 particular school. Saved the dates and the money for it. Unfortunately, that $%&@ named corporate slavery showed her manipulative face now and again and I didn’t make it to any of the trainings. The good thing about track school is they are all 1- or 2-day programs (L1 and/or L2) over weekends and happen frequently. The usual suspect venues are Kari Motor Speedway (Coimbatore), MMRT (Chennai) or BIC (Noida). There are more tracks in India but these 3 stood out. I would love an opportunity or at least a run at BIC but costs go higher and I definitely wanted to have more experience under my belt to truly tear that track up on a ~1000cc bike.

Somehow, I managed to make time and money for 1 school at the advent of the monsoon season (won an insta-contest for 30% off the whole fee). I was sure that if I didn’t start now this resolution would move to 2019. Unfortunately, said school did not accept my helmet for training even though other academies did. I poured over the FMSCI rule book for the 1st time and it did not have a clause for my helmet. But I respect all academies and when it comes to safety its foolish to argue. So, I let it pass and soon enough through a friendly nudge I signed up at Rajini Academy of Competitive Racing (RACR) for an L1 session. It fit my tiny pockets but was just for a day. Rented the suit and bike from them. Invested in a pretty decent pair of track boots, stole some gloves and got my helmet all set up. Then came the wait for 15 July 2018 at Kari MS.

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I flew in a day earlier, settled in and tried to rest as much as possible. Made a few friends as we all stayed within walking radius of each other and figured a ride together to the speedway the following morning. Folks came all the way from the north and I was able to put faces to the names who had pinged me on WhatsApp once we all signed up and were added to a group a month prior. I was tad nervous but not as wrecked as I imagined myself to be. We skipped breakfast and that was mistake #1. To be fair nothing was available at 6am and the route to the track had not woken up. Last thing I wanted was to go riding dead hungry. As people poured in, we all registered, got our gear, paid the final amount and started becoming a noisy bunch. If you rent a suit, you wont always get the best fitted one and certainly not a sparkly one. Hence, setting the reader’s expectation right. There was gear from BBG, Furygan and Taichi to name a few. We all pretty much fit in. I found my 1st experience with a 1-piece racing suit to be a challenge. It was heavy, bulky and not ‘fit’ although pretty manageable. It did its job. I carried wicking material inners. Even though the day started out cool and breezy, the suit got difficult to keep on as the day progressed. I was fidgety, and the suit felt clingy as morning turned to evening. Let’s just say, thank god it wasn’t summer, and it takes some conditioning to get used to – for me at least. The rest of the gear was perfect.

Walking on the track was a great experience. I finished my registration early and spent my spare hour staring at the track, looking at the bikes (150cc categories), just recceing the space I was to spend the majority part of my day. A trio that had ridden down from Bangalore the night before on their KTMs became fast friends and were super kind enough to make a breakfast run and get us idlis from a local joint. God bless them souls. We all connected and figured out the noobs versus the veterans. Most folks had just come for the experience whilst many asked questions about how to get to the racing bit. I directed all such questions to the RACR team and when asked if I was getting into racing (which apparently seemed like an obvious reason to invest in track sessions), I simply said I had no idea – which is indeed true. Never say never!

 

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The sessions started with introductions to self, team, trainers and the track. We were divided into batches of ~10 or less and assigned instructors. The noobs were separated from those who were back for repeat doses and those who rented bikes versus using their own. A total of 5 classroom sessions followed by 5 track sessions were planned to alternate each other. Basically, classroom instructions, get on track, apply it, get back to the pits, gather your feedback, get into the session again, learn something new and repeat. I won’t break down each session and describe it because it takes away from the actual learning one goes for. But to sum up MY experience here goes:

I started nervous on the track. 1st round involved getting used to bike (Honda 150), the suit (BBG) and mentally regurgitating the instructions. I watched for the instructor, stayed back as much as possible and let the others zoom past me. I was adamant about going slow and easy and not looking to become a total squid in the 1st round. To be honest, I just didn’t want to fall at C3 and C4 (track speak for corners). Through conversations with friends’ months ago, I was quickly able to determine the crosses that indicated entry, exit and apex of the turns and that made me smile under the lid. After round 1, the one and only totally expected feedback was to get my speeds up and increase pace. At this point I informed the instructor that corners were always a problem for me and THAT is exactly what I wanted to focus most on. He was receptive. As the day progressed, with each restriction and instruction, my confidence grew, and I looked forward to getting on the track. I did noticeably 1 or 2 lesser laps than my batchmates. That didn’t bother me at all. Learning and getting my technique right was what mattered. The instructor too figured what I was up to and didn’t push me which I greatly appreciated. Rather he watched out for what I was doing right and was super encouraging when I got corners and technique on point. I noted that at each session after a bunch of laps with the boys, he would fall back a wee bit and give me a thumbs up sign. A positive visual cue works wonders and that just made me pick things up faster.

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We had a lunch break in between (included in the package) wherein we all feverishly discussed our excitement and experiences. I had a brief connect with my instructor who wanted to understand my riding experience and my day so far. I enjoyed the neutral and relatively calm atmosphere. Nothing felt judgemental, pressured or wanting to make me run away. I just kept looking forward to more. The 2nd half of the day moved faster than the morning. It was at that point I realized that 1 day was just not enough – this was my cue to take up a 2-day training in the future. It would be remarkable to test muscle memory from the day before not to mention get additional time on track. This point forward I was less afraid of speeds and had established C8 as my favorite. I did have a near miss at C7 (almost ran off track but managed to recover myself well) and scraped my boots at C8 – this meant I leant enough but also, I needed to correct my footing. During the 3rd or 4th session we did body positioning basics. In theory I was convinced to be failing it, but in practical it was easy. This session highlighted the 1 neglected aspect of my personal self over the past year–health and fitness which were grossly overshadowed by work. Getting on the bike and riding it is just a fraction of the work. What is undermined is sharp vision, good reflexes, a strong core and awareness of your muscles and how to make them work smart. Let the bike work too; its not a stupid machine and engineering counts for something. Together both make for an undeniably smooth flow. I tried it and it felt beautiful. I think I was mentally lost after a few rounds cuz the laps became easier and more natural session 3 onwards. The trainings were fun, interactive and full of laughter. There was a bit of rain but thankfully the track dried up in time and we did 1 or 2 sessions on semi-wet tracks.

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All in all, it was one of the most productive weekends ever. I am always always looking to learn something or gain an experience. I did both on this Sunday. I started with “I’ll just do this 1 track day” and ended up with a plan for an encore. Made some amazing new pals with varied experience and backgrounds. Not to mention our youngest batch mate Kavin (instagram: @kavin_9310) – all of 13 years old asked a zillion questions like a sponge and put us all to shame on the track. Of course, once done, we all looked forward to our certificates and ‘graduating’ the session, making elaborate plans to meet again and hounding the poor fotog Akhil for our “imaginatively” MotoGPesque pictures. I tried speaking to as many folks as possible in this time just to connect and was more relaxed at 6pm than I was at 6am. I know for certain that my next stint will be a more enjoyable one. Rajni was humble, approachable and very organized. He spent most of his time training the aspiring batches and those who had prior track experience (understandably so). But I have to mention that during my 1st gear check, my boot zipper wouldn’t go all the way up over the leather. Rajni sir personally zipped it up for me and that made an impression on me 😊 There was gear and bike check prior to EVERY track session. The helmet clasps, gloves, boots even my braid was checked and tucked in. One wouldn’t feel lost in the crowd is what I gathered.

If one hasn’t done a track session and always wondered how it felt, DO IT SOON. We now have academies, accomplished instructors and the infrastructure to fulfil those wishes. I wish I had done it sooner or all of these opportunities were available a few years ago. Most of the instructors have radiated out of long standing parent schools who’ve been around the block and produced the best of the pool we have AND designed the learning modules. If time and cost aren’t a factor, 1 can even consider the enviable CSS. Heck the biggest question I ask myself is why the $%^@& did it take me so long to start riding. Well… #neversaynever! 😉

 

 

 

 

Racing the Ameo

Racing as an activity is as old as mankind itself. From the time man discovered and created vehicles they have always raced. Wooden chariots to modern day F1 cars all have one thing in common. They provide man with the chance to be the fastest in a race where the competition is amongst the best one finds in that year, country or era.

“Racing is meditation on speed”- Anonymous

But racing cars on a racetrack in India is not easily done. Primarily as there are only 3 racetracks in this country and the cost to hire them for a track day is not cheap and easily accessible to an individual. Combine that with modifying a car, buying special track tyres, having a support crew on hand and this becomes even more of a dream.

So then what does a youngster who wants to train to become a professional race car driver do in India? He/she applies for the Volkswagen Motorsport Programme. This programme started 9 years back. Every year from 2010 through the various cup competitions that they have organised and held VW Motorsport has unearthed the best talent that is to be found in this country. Starting with the Polo cup to the Ameo Cup the VW race drivers over a period of 3 odd months race with the same competitive spirit and ferocity one experiences in any touring car championship worldwide.

This has been helmed by Sirish Vissa who has been involved with the programme from its inception. He took over as head of the programme in 2014. In my interaction with him the one thing he always wanted to do right from the beginning is develop the race car start to finish at the Pune facility. That became a reality with the Ameo Cup Race car which is designed and developed totally in India.

Sirish says “This is a car that is designed in India, developed in India and tested in India.” An excellent example of Make in India as any!

Volkswagen India was kind enough to invite Rotormouth along with other media personnel to experience and participate in the media race weekend.

The prospective drivers go through a very detailed selection process which starts with them racing in go karts at various tracks across the country which culminates in the finale at the Indi cart Racing track in Pune. The people who get to the final are amongst the fastest in all the regions in India. Then starts the rigorous training schedule which involves all sorts of fitness routines, driving techniques, learning race rules and lots more. Sirish believes in using a holistic approach to the whole process. This leads to them learning the whole process towards becoming a professional race car driver. For this year’s season they have shortlisted 19 drivers.

Apart from learning and honing one’s skill the drivers are taught how to market themselves to sponsors for the season. This is crucial as in the cut throat world of motorsports having a sponsor behind you makes a huge difference to your career prospects. They learn what it is to work with a team who is always suggesting and expecting inputs from you to extract the maximum from the car for a top 3 finish every race. The drivers learn that camaraderie in the pits doesn’t buy you any favours on the racetrack. They learn how cruel and unforgiving the race track can be to the smallest of mistakes.

So, what did I learn from all of this? I learnt that I was nowhere as fast and skilled on the racetrack as the professionals. I learnt how sharp and decisive one must be to race on a track. How unforgiving this car is if you don’t treat her right.

Rayomand Banajee 8-time national karting and racing champion and founder of Rayo Racing and Indy Karting gave us our first briefing before free practice. Here we were taught the meaning and importance of the various flags the marshals would wave depending on what they wanted to communicate to us regarding what’s happening on the race track. It could be anything from an accident that has occurred, an oil spill, safety car on track. We were then instructed and shown the racing lines we should follow to extract the best time and performance in each lap. Post this we were given our racing gear.

Once in the pits we sat in our respective cars where the support crew did our final seat adjustment and explained the various buttons and the respective roles they play. This Cup car shares very little with the Ameo. Everything inside the cabin and under the hood is prototyped for racing.

 

Now we were ready to practice. The roar of the engine when I started the car was unlike anything I have heard before. It was loud and brutal. As we exited the pit lane and went out in track the first thing I felt was the kind of torque and power that a 205 HP engine brings to the table. Weaving into corners and on straights the first few laps I had a tough time figuring out the racing lines. Towards the end of the session just when I was coming to terms with the coming into the fast-right hander which leads to the start finish straight I went off track momentarily which was all it took to lose control. Next thing I knew I spun around and went into the tyre wall. I was unhurt which is testimony to the safety aspects and measures taken by VW Motorsport which adhere to the highest standards in motorsport today.

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On my walk back to the pits I realised the level of commitment, discipline and single-minded focus a racer needs to succeed at the highest level. Motorsports is the best example of teaching one the importance and value of having a great team. Next time you see your favourite driver win a race, please take a minute out and salute the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes.

Sirish Vissa and VW Motorsport are doing a phenomenal job with this programme. Our country needs more programmes such as these to support and unearth the racing talent lying dormant across the length and breadth of our vast nation.

See you at the track…