VOLKSWAGEN MOTORSPORT IN INDIA-A DECADE LONG AFFAIR

Volkswagen Motorsport is celebrating a decade’s journey in India. A journey that started with the Polo Cup and has today transitioned to the Ameo Cup one of the most premier one-make touring car racing championships in India.6.jpgTo celebrate this occasion, they have designed a beast of a track car. This was part of their “Winter Project Programme” where in 3 weeks they created the PoloRX! a powerful, rear-engine, rear wheel drive Polo for the ultimate adrenaline rush! The car, built in a Polo body shell, is equipped with Ameo Cup car’s 1.8-litre TSI engine and sequential gear box with paddle shifters. What makes the perfect car for track days is that it’s beyond any limitation of racing regulations.

The evening I landed in Chennai the conversation around the table was about the huge buzz PoloRX had created on social media.

Early next morning we landed up at MMRT. The Madras Motor Race Track is a permanent motor racing circuit located in Irungattukottai, Chennai, India. It was built in the late 1980s and was inaugurated in 1990 and is owned by the Madras Motor Sports Club. A track I have driven before last year in the Ameo Media Cup Race weekend.

After the presentation of the history and achievements of Volkswagen Motorsport worldwide, in India, post the track briefing by Rayomand Banajee, it was time to drive!1.jpgThe 1st car I drove was the INRC -1, VW Motorsport’s entry level car for rallying enthusiasts. Developed to FIA R2 regulations the car is powered by a 1.2TSI engine which puts out 145HP and 205NM Torque. We had a pilot car ahead of us on the track to guide and ensure we behave ourselves on track. The time we were allocated per car was 2 laps on the track. This was the first time I was driving the VW Motorsport Rally cars. The moment we got on the track the fun started. This car is fast, loves being thrown into corners and even if one went off-road the car handled it easily. Our 1st lap was easy paced, to get us familiar with the car and track. Lap 2 onwards was when the fun started. The suspension, driving setup and overall package on offer is fantastic. For a budding  rally enthusiast who’s looking at getting started in the rally circuit, look no further. This is the car for you.

After a quick water and biscuit break, I jumped into car no 2, the INRC 2. A car that is developed to FMSCI INRC 2 regulations which allow modifications to engine and gearbox internals. Runs a modified 1.6 MPI engine with modified engine head mated to 5-speed H-gear pattern gearbox with dog internals.2.jpgThere is more power available; the car is setup for the more advanced driver. I requested my pilot driver to drive faster which would give me an opportunity to push the envelope in terms of speed and track time. This time the 2 laps on track were sharper, more focused in terms of overall driving experience, the INRC 2 responded with utmost ease.

One was having so much fun now that the high levels of humidity were quickly forgotten.5.jpgNow it was time to drive the Polo R2, a car that had seen huge success last year in the rally circuit. A 1.6 MPI engine built for FIA R2 regulations this produces 165Hp and 205NM Torque mated to a 5-speed sequential gearbox from SADEV.  Comes with uprated caliper and discs on the front and rear, long travel suspension with custom tubular lower arms.  This was the real deal. Moment I got in and started the engine, one started getting a sense of how brutal and fast this car will be. Driving out of the pits and onto the first corner of the track the R2 was unlike the first 2 cars I had driven. Raw and visceral in character over the 2 laps on the track I got to experience what a rally driver would go through in an actual rally. The braking in this car is hugely different to the previous cars. One had to really press hard on the brake pedal to engage the brakes.

When I inquired about this difference, was told in an actual rally, the rally drivers come hard on the pedals. There’s no downtime. Everything is happening so fast…Thus this suits the drivers better than the conventional style of braking.

It was now time to start with the one make VW cup cars. First one I jumped into was Polo TDI Cup Car, the 1st car in India with a diesel power-train.3This is a 1.6 litre turbo charged engine that produces 130HP. Quick of the block, without ABS this was racing old school style. I was told that this would be a different experience as all the car I have driven so far had driving aids. This didn’t. This car was a hoot to drive. Fast, compact with the super handling characteristics that the Polo is known for everything I threw at the car it responded in equal measure. Now the 2 laps were feeling very less, one wanted to drive more! The gearbox is smooth, refined something one come to expect with VW cars. The size and shape of the Polo makes it the perfect hatch to throw around on a track day.4.jpgNext up was the Polo TSI Cup Car that comes equipped with a more powerful 1.4 litre TSI Engine that produces 180HP and is mated to a 6-speed automatic sequential DQ 250. It comes with a turbo charger and a super charger power unit. This was also the first touring race car to use paddle shifters in Indian Motorsport.  Everything about this car being more powerful was obvious past the first few corners. The automatic gearbox, lots more power made driving this a super enjoyable experience. My racing lines were improving, I was carrying more speed out of the corners. Braking late which is one of the most important skills for being a good track driver is something I need to improve on further.7.jpgThe Vento TSI Cup Car was next on the driving list. Its carries the powertrain from its predecessor the Race Polo TSI. The roll cage was welded in to provide a stiffer chassis. This with a proper race car setup provides a car which is forgiving to the rookies yet fun to drive for the experienced drivers. This couldn’t be truer. From the time I got on the track this car lived up to its reputation. Fast into corners, carrying speed out of them on the straights this became my favourite of all the cars I had driven so far. Rayo who was driving the pilot car ahead also let me drive with more abandon. I wanted to spend more time with this car, but since we were running a tight schedule one jumped into the next.IMG_7126.JPGThe Ameo Cup Race Car I had driven last year in the Ameo Cup Media race weekend. This is the first fully locally produced race car in India under the Volkswagen India Motorsport Programme. Fitted with a 1.8 litre turbo charged engine this car delivers a maximum power of 205HP. With sophisticated MoTec systems in place, this is a car that is on par with most racing series run worldwide. A sequential gearbox with 3MO in conjunction with XAP system provides seamless and very fast gear shifts making this one powerful race car.

This time around having spent more time on the track, I managed to experience everything the Ameo Cup car had to offer. Driving this one could see how the programme has evolved down the years. This is a car that is fast, setup perfectly for the professional race driver with high standards of safety. Sirish and his team have done such a good job at one-tenth of the budgets of most racing cars team worldwide which is truly impressive!8Now was time to drive the Vento ITC, which I had driven at the BIC last year during the VW Motorsport Ameo Cup race weekend. The Vento ITC race car is powered by a 1.8-litre TSI engine, mated to a 3MO sequential gearbox with a manual gearshift lever. Driving this on the track is challenging and exciting at the same time. The Vento has been designed to participate in the Indian Touring Championships. Thus, the whole setup of the car is different from the Ameo Cup car. Its’s lighter than the Ameo the suspension is set up differently.  The Vento ITC c is just the car I would buy for a day out on the track!

The last car I drove was the Track Day Vento car which is setup almost in the same way as the Vento ITC. There are some minor differences in handling, it’s more forgiving and setup ideally for the rookie and recreational track enthusiast.918 laps had whizzed by. Now it was time to take a taxi ride in the car of the moment. The Polo RX. Rayo was driving, from the get-go he showcased how insane and mad this car is. Throw into corners and its so tail happy like asking you to do more. So much power is available, Rayo was just having fun. When I asked him about how hard he drive it, he laughed and said that this was just 30% the actual potential this car has to offer!  I can’t wait to drive it! a sentiment echoed by everyone in the media contingent.10.jpgThe morning just whizzed by. Now it was time to leave.  VW Motorsport had demonstrated how in just a decade they had taken their programme to standards comparable to anywhere in the world. A big thank you to Sirish, Adhish and everyone at VW Motorsport for giving me a day to remember.

People who are interested in buying the Polo RX please get in touch with the VW Motorsport office in Pune. Believe me you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

CONVERSATION WITH SIRISH VISSA – HEAD VW MOTORSPORT INDIA

I recently caught up with Sirish Vissa, where he shared what Volkswagen Motorsport India plans for the 2019 season. 

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2018 was a great year for Volkswagen Motorsport in every regard, what are the new initiatives and changes we will see this year?

2018 was indeed an excellent year for us at Volkswagen Motorsport India in both Customer Sport programme as well as our one-make Ameo Cup.  Volkswagen Polo and Polo R2 together secured 37 podium positions and 10 victories altogether in Overall, INRC 1, INRC 2 and INRC 3 categories in the 2018 season.

We will follow the same direction in 2019 and continue to participate and prove the excellence of Volkswagen Polo cars in rallying through our Customer Sport programme. For 2019, we are further developing and updating our Polo R2 to make it even more competitive.

In terms of power, setup and development what changes will we see in the 2019 Ameo cup car compared to last year’s model?

We are always keeping ourselves busy with constant development – even if there are no major upgrades. In 2019, the Ameo Cup race car will see a few minor tweaks and fine tuning to the overall setup, especially in terms of suspension. The Ameo Cup racecar has been built in a way that it is friendly to newcomers and challenging to the pros as well. It is a fine balance that we have already achieved and there is not much we would like to change in it at the moment.

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Volkswagen motorsport saw success in the Indian rally circuit. Are we going to see the team participate in more events this year? Also, when do we see a full blown national level Volkswagen rally like the Ameo Cup?

Our Customer Sport programme is an extremely important initiative for us through which we support privateers and their teams with technical and spares support during INRC. We will continue being present at all the rounds of the INRC even this year and not compromise on any support that we extend to our customers.

A full blown rally series on the lines of Ameo Cup is something that we are not exploring. We want to stay in open competition and not restrict it in any way. Also, a factory team itself in the national rally championship is something we are consciously staying away from.

2019 marks the 10th year of Volkswagen Motorsport in India. Anything special planned to mark this occasion?

Of course! Volkswagen Motorsport India is entering its 10th year in 2019 and the idea is to stay committed to the Indian motorsport fraternity. We will continue the premium one-make series Ameo Cup in the same format as before. We are expanding our Customer Sport programme, which initially started only with rally cars and was limited to a segment, to proper involvement with variety of specs for different categories. We are also in Indian Touring Car championship now with cars that have the potential to be front runners. All in all, we have grown across different forms and series of motorsport in India and will continue with our commitment.

How soon can we expect different OEM’s to start competing with each other at the national motorsport level?

This is more of a question for other OEMs!  We have been participating in both rallying and in the Indian Touring Car Championship (ITC) where the idea is to compete with other manufacturers.  We would love to see others join in as this will make the sport more exciting for the spectators, and also add to the sport.  The new ITC regulations as well as the turbo regulations in the INRC are both forward looking and are intended to make it viable for manufacturers to bring in current and future generation cars.  I believe that we will start to see some changes within the next year.

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…