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.
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…