Sandeep Kumar: Driving your passion
India’s racing future looks bright with youngsters like him winning laurels on International fronts
20-yr-old Sandeep Kumar, who recently represented India at the Scirocco R Cup (Junior) in Germany and Austria after winning the Volkswagen Polo R Cup shares his experience of racing on an international circuit for the first time.
Your victory at the Volkswagen Polo R cup 2012 (Pro category) made you a sure shot entrant into the Scirocco R Cup (Junior) 2013. How different was it racing on an international circuit as compared to Indian tracks?
The hardest part was being exposed to the track for just 45mins and heading straight to qualifying unlike what i was used to earlier. And compared to India the track temperatures in Europe are considerably low and therefore the tyres should really be worked to get heat into them. Also, the sport is better known to the public in Europe and therefore the atmosphere and support from the public was enormous.
Did your performance at the pre-season testing give you the required experience and confidence before your first race at Hockenheim, given that you would be competing with veterans?
Of course the track time gained through the pre season test helped in gaining confidence. And we definitely gained some valuable knowledge about the car. When we arrived at Hockenhiem, everything was new except for some knowledge about the car. And it wasn’t easy to learn the track in such a short span, and head to qualifying straight to compete with some well experienced drivers. In the end, we kept working on and off track to improvise after each session.
What kind of a physical workout or diet regime did you have to follow in Germany and Austria, and how was it different from your regular routine here?
There wasn’t any special routine that I followed just for Europe. It was a bit difficult the first time during the fitness camp to get accustomed to their food and culture. By the time the season started, I had made two visits already and things seemed normal. My normal routine that I followed here was also comfortable there. Just that I missed Indian food a lot for few days, every month.
Just like most other racers, did your racing career too start with JK Tyre National Rotax Championship (go-karting)?
Yes my first ever professional racing championship was with the Rotax. They are amazing machines which require proper fitness and technique to handle them.
Could you describe your most memorable incident while on the racetrack? Something that helped you learn an important lesson about racing?
Back in 2011, at the Hyderabad Kartainement Track, during the final round of the Rotax National Championship, Vishnu Prasad and I were fighting it out for the second place in the Championship. And after few laps from the start, Vishnu’s chain slipped and forced him to stop. I was excited. This could be my chance. But to my hard luck, few laps later I experienced some problem and saw him getting ahead. Finally it ended with me having the 3rd place with just 1 point behind the 2nd position. This unpredictability is what that makes this sport so interesting and makes you push all the way till the end.
With racing not being a popular sport in India, it must’ve been hard to find someone to emulate. What kept you going when you, well, hit the curb…
I was always passionate about automobiles and racing, even when I was not into the sport. Fortunately I got the opportunities along the way to do what I love. It’s my passion that drives me during hard times and the constant support of my family that makes me whatever I am today.
Who do you see as your competitor? And how do you benchmark your own performances to get better?
The fastest guy of the weekend always lays the benchmark. So I work harder every time to beat that for a better one. Everyone on the track is extremely talented, and I just have to try to be ahead of everyone in the grid.
Your favourite round at the Scirocco Cup? Except the one where you were quickest, of course.
Not considering Norisring, Nurburgring was a good weekend for us. Despite the fact that we achieved the second best result there, the circuit itself was a prestigious one with a long history. Not to forget the Nordschleife. I still remember, we had taken an Opel station wagon for a spin around it. It was wonderful.
Do you think racing as a sport is slowly becoming popular in India? What has Volkswagen, who is big in the field, been doing to encourage it?
The most known and the prominent form of encouragement is the Polo R Cup. It’s a very good platform for youngsters like me to showcase our skills. Since all the cars are worked to be the same, we can be sure that everyone has an equal base. Also, the scholarship to the Scirocco R-Cup is a good initiative to expose drivers to the international arena.
What’s next for the Chennai prodigy who started his racing career at the age of 13?
If things fall into place, I would be happy to repeat the same series for another year and achieve some strong results, and then take one at a time from there.