LET’S RACE…

Fast cars zooming by…The smell of petrol in the air… Bunch of us from the media driving stock VW Ameo’s on the track… A track which has become synonymous with racing history in India. 18 drivers going hell for rubber in one of the best racing championships. Me getting access to drive the ITC VW Vento on track! If this feels like a dream every petrol head has, it sure was… A dream where I did all these things… Well, I didn’t race in the championships, but did everything else… So, without any further ado…

Thursday morning started in a spectacular way. 6 in the morning, I arrived at the Buddh International Circuit, India’s only F1 track in Greater Noida. We were invited by Volkswagen India to drive their stock Ameo’s on the track. This would give us a first-hand experience of the handling and performance of these vehicles, in an arena where you push the cars to the edge.

After the customary safety briefing by Rayomand Banajee and Karthik Tharani Singh, the two mentors/trainers of the VW Racing programme, we headed to the track.

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Paired in groups of 2 per car, we were to follow the lead cars being driven by Rayo and Karthik. I was paired with a very good friend, Ashish Jha a well-known print and TV journalist. Our lead car was being driven by Karthik. At the end of 2 laps the drivers would interchange places within the Ameo. Ashish took driving honours at the start. He has raced professionally long back which was evident in the way he kept pace with Karthik. Then came my turn. I was very lucky to have someone like Ashish who gave me a crash course in learning the racing lines. He was giving me instructions on when to brake, get on the throttle, turning hard into corners. By lap 3, I could see a marked improvement in following the racing lines.

By the time we finished, my smile refused to leave my face. Post our drive, we were taken for taxi drives in the VW Ameo cup cars by Rayo, Karthik and Sirish Vissa, Head Volkswagen Motorsport India. This was a complete contrast to our earlier drive, giving us a total perspective on how versatile and fast the Ameo can be.

This weekend was the final race weekend of the VW Ameo Cup 2018. The title was a foregone conclusion, barring a horrible and practically impossible result for the leader Dhruv Mohite. Dhruv had impressed all season and this weekend didn’t look any different. VW Motorsport India had invited 2 well known motoring journalists Dhruv Behl editor/publisher autoX and Cyrus Dhabhar Car & Bike Show, NDTV India to race during this weekend. Dhruv is undoubtedly the fastest driver amongst the automotive media fraternity in India. They were going to 3 free practice sessions and from session 1 the drivers went for it.

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Dhruv Mohite was setting the fastest times which wasn’t a surprise. The real surprise came from Dhruv Behl’s timings… He was just a second off Dhruv Mohite’s timings. Considering this was the 1st time he had tested and driven this car it was a phenomenal result. But those who know Dhruv’s Behl’s racing history know in the past he has started from the last place on the grid and landed up on the podium. Now the drivers had to contend with a journalist apart from their own. This was building up to an exciting qualifying session on Saturday.

DAY 2 started off with me riding around the pits on Ducati motorcycles. Yes you read it right! Apart from the excitement of the VW Ameo cup cars there was a Ducati Hypermotard, 848 Evo and Multistrada at the track. These belonged to Sirish Vissa Head, VW Motorsport India, Adhish Alawani Head Corporate Communications VW Motorsport India and Aaron Mendonza a sailor by profession. Adhish and Aaron along with a 3rd friend had ridden their Ducati’s from Pune to Delhi!

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This afternoon I was going to drive the VW ITC Vento around BIC! When I got into the Vento and started it…woaah!, This car was loud. Driving out of the pits and onto an empty track, well the fun had just begun. The education of learning the racing lines was very helpful (Thank you Ashish 🙂 ).

The ITC Volkswagen Vento 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. Lap 1 in this car was all about learning the limits to which I could drive the car…

Lap 2 onwards I got more confident and comfortable, reflecting in the improvement in lap times (nowhere close to the times being set by the professional racers!) The few laps I drove the Vento around the BIC was enough to convince me, that this is what I am going to buy in the future for track days…

On discussing this with Sirish, he told me this is exactly what they want. They are looking to sell this car to prospective customers who want to buy a race car for track days. This is a first of sorts, as no other car track racing programme in India offers such an opportunity. If anyone is interested, please get in touch with Volkswagen Motorsport for the Vento. Believe me, you will not want to stop driving this car, that’s how good the Vento is!

By the time we headed to the hotel nothing could wipe the look of satisfaction off my face…

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THE AMEO CUP

Saturday arrived with a bang. For the 1st time in my life, I sat pillion on a superbike. Riding to the track on Adhish’s 848 Evo was one mad experience… Most people at the track felt I was crazy! Today’s agenda was the last practice of the season and then qualifying. The practice session went according to script, with the favourites clocking good times.

Post lunch when qualifying started all the predictions went out of the window. Pratik Sonawane drove like a man possessed. He was in the form of his life, reflected in the lap time he set. He set a time of 2:21:595 a good 0.6 seconds faster than favourite Dhruv Mohite. Dhruv Behl took the 3rd place on the grid, which wasn’t surprising, considering the pace he set in practice.

Would Pratik Sonawane upset Dhruv Mohite? Will Dhruv Behl be good enough to get on the podium. These questions and more were discussed over dinner and late into the night. The day finally arrived. Sunday was a packed race day. Apart from the 2 Ameo Cup races, there were 2-wheeler races as well.

The atmosphere in the pits was a mix of tension, uncertainty and anxiety for the drivers. The support crew and mechanics were happy at a successful season coming to an end. There was a substantial level of crowd support. This was very heartening to see. Motorsports is probably one of the most exciting sports to watch anywhere in the world.

India is still playing catch up, which is surprising as at one time race weekends attracted crowds in the thousands in the decades 70’s till the early 90’s…

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Race 1 started half an hour behind schedule. But the moment they went on their sighting lap, you could see these guys meant business. All the camaraderie in the pits was forgotten. Now it was each man/woman for himself/herself… The race started.

By lap 1 the pre-race script was thrown out of the window. Dhruv Mohite was immediately in the lead. However, later in the first lap he had an incident with Pratik Sonawane which pushed him down the order. This gave Dhruv Behl a chance to take the lead, followed by Pratik Sonawane and Saurav Bandyopadhyay. On the last corner of Lap 1 Arefeen Raafi Ahmed had an incident that caused the Safety Car to come out. Since, Arefeen’s car was stranded at the last corner so, the race had to be red flagged and restarted. Shortly after the restart, Shubhomoy Ball went off the third corner that forced the Safety Car to come back in again. Unfortunately for everyone concerned the rest of Race 1 was held under Safety Car. The top three drivers stayed in the same order till the chequered flag with the Safety Car going back into the pits only on the last lap.

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A mention here for Saurav Bandyopadhyay who had just recovered from dengue. He had missed most of the free practice sessions earlier in the week. This didn’t stop him from taking the third position. Hats off to his resilience and passion for racing.

Race 2 started off with Jeet in the pole position, Dhruv Mohite in the second position and Anmol Singh in the third position. On the second lap of the race Akshay Bhivshet and Tauhid Anwar spun off in the first corner bringing out the Safety Car. Unlike the first race though, the Safety Car went back in after two laps and the drivers got back on to race pace. On the fifth lap, Affan challenged Anmol for the third position, got past him and held his position till the last lap. Anmol didn’t give up till the end and made his move on Affan on the last lap to clinch the final spot on the podium.

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With Dhruv Mohite finishing second in the race, he secured enough points to win the Ameo Cup 2018 title with a strong lead over Saurav Bandyopadhyay. The battle for the second position in the final standings was a tight one between Saurav and Jeet, with Jeet having to settle in third position overall. The Junior star of the Ameo Cup 2018 was Shubhomoy Ball who showed terrific dedication throughout the season. With a gap of over 92 points in the final standings of the Junior category, it was a clear win for Shubhomoy.

Sirish and his team had once again run a fantastic season. The Ameo Cup is one of the finest in the country and doing so much to unearth racing talent in India. Now it was time for the after party and celebrations.

Driving various cars on tracks, racing Ducati’s, it was one crazy adrenaline fuelled adventure. A big thank you to everyone at Volkswagen Motor Sport for inviting me for this event. Can’t wait for the next season of the Ameo Cup to start…

See you at the VW Ameo Cup in 2019…

MONSOON FUN WITH THE AMEO

The last time I drove an Ameo it was the Ameo Cup Car at the MMRT – Chennai. Fast and furious are the adjectives that spring to mind when describing that car. Last week the stock version of the Ameo was waiting for me to drive.

How different was this Ameo compared to its race brethren? Let’s find out…

The Ameo is a compact shaped mid-size sedan, step in and the first things you notice is the flat-bottomed sporty looking steering wheel which is height and reach adjustable. There’s an accompanying armrest between the front seats.

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Switch on the car and the responsive touchscreen infotainment system comes to life. This supports Bluetooth audio, USB, AUX, SD-Card support, voice command along with mirror Link. The Ameo comes with rear ac-vent, electrically adjustable and retractable outside rear view mirrors. There are lots of features to choose from. There’s cruise control, reverse parking camera with sensors, automatic rain sensing wipers, one-touch power windows and a cooled glove box.

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Put the Ameo into drive mode and the familiarity and efficiency of the VW TDI engine greets you. I drove in dense traffic situations the first day, conditions which are now a regular reality in Mumbai. The Ameo is completely at ease in such conditions.  There’s enough and more power for over taking when required, the braking is very responsive and sharp.

The thing I noticed after driving the Ameo over 70 kms that day was the fuel efficiency. The fuel gauge had barely budged from its starting position in the morning.

I was now looking forward to driving it on the highway over the weekend.

A trip to Shahapur had been pending for a while now. Shahapur is located on the Mumbai – Nashik Highway around 50 kms from Thane. This highway unlike the Mumbai – Pune Expressway and the Mumbai – Gujarat highway isn’t usually choked with very bad traffic most times. I was praying that the traffic gods played along, to ensure a smooth and pleasant drive. The weather was just perfect for such a drive.

The engine’s full potential came to life the moment we hit the highway. The 7 speed DSG gearbox is smooth, refined and lives up to its huge reputation. The shift from drive mode to sports mode is seamless. Shift to sports mode and the gear shifts in the Ameo happen at a higher RPM. 100 kms whizzed by and we were at our destination in a little over 2 hours. The Ameo’s suspension has been tuned for our road conditions. The stretches of bad roads we encountered once off the highway, were a non-issue, tackled very easily by the Ameo.

The handling is sharp and very responsive. The hilly terrain I drove on with its series of corners was tailor made for the Ameo. The car handled that very smoothly and efficiently.

In my conversation with Sirish Vissa – Head of Volkswagen Motorsport India, he had mentioned how the Ameo cup car had a solid foundation to start with. The stock Ameo is a very solid product in terms of handling, suspension, engine and transmission.

This is a car that has more power than any other car in its price range and category.  The cost for the Ameo starts at ₹ 5.67 Lakhs and goes up to ₹ 10 Lakhs.  The petrol version starts at ₹ 5.67 Lakhs. The diesel version starts at ₹ 6.7 Lakhs.

There are lots of features on offer for the price. Combined with the fact that this is an easy car to drive around the city, makes the Ameo an attractive proposition in the mid-size sedan category. So, if that is the kind of car you are looking at buying next, take the Ameo out for a test drive…