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Planet TG: Bragging Rights
TopGear goes wheel to wheel in a race-prepped sedan at the BIC. Surprisingly, returns with sparkly, well-deserved trophy
It was like appearing for my SSC Board exams all over again. Sweaty palms, shaky limbs, dry throat and hurriedly memorizing notes one last time. And it wasn’t just me – everyone else in the room was equally anxious. And with good reason – this was, for most of us, our first time racing on a track.
Still, I wasn’t complaining. I was one of the lucky few to get the opportunity to don the overalls and actually race at the Buddh International Circuit, with race-prepped cars. Lucky because this was probably the only time someone like me, with a steadily growing pot belly and unfit body, would ever be strapped into a racing seat.
But there I was, just about managing to zip up the suit, squeezing in between the roll cage and the steering wheel, and putting on the four-point harness that promised to protect me from the life threatening incidents that are distinctly likely in a race full of first-time racers.
Although I’ve driven around this extremely quick F1 circuit before, an actual race is an altogether different ball game. First off, you need to be damn fit to survive a race weekend and then, you are expected to be lightning quick if you’re going to make a bid for the podium. And I, for one, am anything but fit. Or lightning quick.
Still, I mustered some courage and represented Team TopGear at the Volkswagen Media race. I got in touch with our race mentors, got on with practice laps, studied the track, gauged the racing lines, hoping to ultimately be the quickest guy that weekend. But VW Motorsport had slightly different plans – this was going to be run as a team event.
We were divided in two groups – one would drive the Polo Cup hatchbacks, the other the Vento Cup sedans. And each team would have two drivers, one from each category. I was in Team 7, driving the white and green Vento with my experienced teammate, R K Dhawan piloting the No. 12 Polo.
Once the teams were chalked out, rules explained and racing overalls distributed, it was time to fire up the engines and kickstart the weekend. What was originally scheduled to be a proper 30 minutes of free practice, ended up lasting barely 10 minutes. And the culprit for the red flag was a, er, white and green Vento with competition No. 7. Mine.
After two laps, my Vento gave up on me – its driveshaft collapsed, leaving me in the middle of the track, and getting the red flags out. Some start to my ‘racing career’. The emotion of not being able to race because of a broken car was immense.
But once the car was pushed back into the pits, the mechanics did a fine job of getting me rolling for second free practice in time. The thought of not setting a quick time the first time around was painful, and I put all my energy into putting down some flyers in FP2. After 30 minutes of pedal-to-the-metal action, I emerged as the fastest of the Ventos. Quicker by 1.5sec. That was a welcome surprise.
But I was no match for the Polos up ahead, clocking times that were almost 15 seconds quicker than the Ventos. Saturday turned out to be an anticlimax of sorts for Team 7. I made a wrong call in qualifying, and that forced me to fight for track space with some of the slower Ventos. In doing so, I ruined my tyres in the early laps of the session and then there was no coming back. I qualified third fastest in the Vento category, and a disastrous 11th on the starting grid. But all was not lost that afternoon. There was no way I could beat the Polos, so I focused all my energy on getting a good start, beating the front-running Ventos by Turn 1, and then leading the category.
It all sounded easy. And luckily, things were going exactly as planned. When the five red lights went off, I had a great start, overtaking four cars by Turn 1 and leading the other Ventos by Turn 3. Just then, two Polos collided right in front of me, forcing me to turn wide and I just about managed to stay out of the resulting melee. It got the yellow flags out, and the safety car. In the meantime, a Vento overtook me under caution and I lost my lead. I was hoping the stewards had noticed it, but at that point in time, the best I could do was focus on my racing.
Once the racing resumed, I had a good duel with another charged up Vento driver determined to take the position back from me. But I’d mastered a trick or two in defense (while playing F1 video games, of course) and managed to stay ahead, taking the chequered flag for second position. With the hope that I would get my lost position back, I began savouring my victory (for Vento category) before it was announced.
By the end of the race, with track temperatures as high as 48 degrees, I was parched and drained out by the time I returned to the pits – not to mention wiser about your average race driver’s ordeal over a typical race weekend.
And then, I found out the stewards had decided against penalising the Vento driver, so the results remained unchanged. Still, it wasn’t such a bad result for our team. R K Dhawan finished sixth and I came home eighth, with the team collecting 56 points in the process. Our team finished on the podium, taking the second runners-up trophy, ending our weekend on a nice podium-shaped high.
Easily my most exciting and fulfilling weekend away from family and friends so far. Plus, I’ve realised I wasn’t as slow a driver as everyone had made me out to be. If there is a next time, I’m sure I’ll climb up another podium or two. For now, I’m hitting the bar circuit, bragging to anyone who cares to listen.
(Words: Devesh Shobha, Photos: Nitin Rose, VW Motorsport)