I was completely kitted out \– leathers, helmet, et al \– but was without a motorcycle. Instead, I was marinating in my own sweat under the hot Coimbatore sun in the pitlane of the Kari Motor Speedway. My motorcycle was out on track putting in lap after lap and I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my turn to get back on to the bike. I had already sent word to the pitwall, asking them to signal my teammate to come in and swap places with me. Little did I know that this would cost us our position and eventually, a spot to be on the podium.Despite what my colleagues in the office think happened, we didn\’t lose the race because I was slow. Bad strategy is what cost us this one. For the first time, going full gas and attacking every corner like it was your last wasn\’t going to win you the race. You had to strategise, come up with an effective plan, and then execute the plan flawlessly. This wasn\’t an eight-lap sprint race like we were accustomed to, but an endurance race. It was uncharted territory.
A little bit of background \– the guys over at Suzuki wanted to have us over to experience their race-spec Gixxer SF bikes \– the same ones used in the Gixxer Cup. But instead of a vanilla trackday or a plain-old media race, they wanted to do something different. Which is why they came up with the idea of an endurance race. They were pretty confident about their bike lasting the thrashing on a racetrack for an extended period of time. They wanted to see if we could keep up. It was a simple formula \— one hour, a bunch of terribly unfit motoring journalists and the 2.1km-long Kari Motor Speedway. Whoever finished the most number of laps would win. Before you dismiss me for exaggerating about how hard riding 60 minutes on a racetrack is, I suggest you head down to one and try it for yourself. It is nothing like riding on the road, even if you\’re tearing apart your favourite stretch of twisty tarmac. Out on the track, everything is dialled up to the max. The speed, the lean angles, the focus, the adrenaline (and eventually the fatigue) is all much more intense.You\’re moving around on the bike more, you\’re ducking lower on the straights, your braking is more aggressive, your brain has to recalibrate itself to keep up with everything going on. Oh, it\’s a proper riot, but it\’s a riot that will leave you out of breath in twenty minutes flat. I\’d know \— I was exhausted at the end of a practice session that lasted as long. Internationally, motorcycle endurance races are held for either 8, 12 or 24 hours, with teams of two or three riders. Even the thought of riding for that long makes me lose electrolytes. Our race was just an hour long, and we could have easily been expected to race the entire distance ourself. But Suzuki knew better \— we were paired up to save us from some expensive hospital bills and not overwork the pit-crew with all the crashed bikes they would have to deal with.
We picked lots the previous evening to get assigned our teammates. Getting a good team was crucial to the race. Being the fastest would not get you close to the podium if your teammate was too slow \— what the team required was balance and consistency. I was paired up with Alameen Merchant, the filmmaker at evo India magazine. I\’ve had the pleasure of working with him in the past, but never riding with him. He owns a Triumph Daytona back in Pune and has been to a couple of track schools himself, including the California Superbike School. He was quick. Not the quickest of the lot, but definitely quicker than me. There were some really fast riders with us there that weekend, but it was sheer luck that had the best of them paired with track noobs. Which meant if we put in some consistent times, we stood a fighting chance. There were all sorts of rules and regulations, but I\’m not going to bore you with them. One crucial one was that no rider could be on the bike for more than 25 minutes at a stretch. Which meant that a minimum of two swaps was required in the 60-minute race window. Qualifying took place first, and qualifying times were the averages of the team-members\’ best laps. We managed to qualify in P4 out of a total of nine teams. The start was unconventional, and borderline hilarious to watch. In true endurance race style, the bikes were lined up on one side of the track (being held upright by one teammate) and the riders were lined up on the other side of the track. A sprint was in order, on foot, in full gear.\
Our strategy had Alameen ride the first 20 minutes while I took over for the next 20. It was hard to keep track of who was riding in what position on the track once the race got going. There were riders all over the place, and things got even more jumbled up after the rider swaps began. We just focussed on keeping our heads down and putting in the best laps I could. Alameen and I had planned to share the final 20 minutes as well. Which brings me to the start of this story. Once ten minutes were up, I sent word to the pit wall to call Alameen in. He acknowledged it at the pit wall and would be getting into the pits at the end of that lap. That\’s when the announcement from race control over the speakers happened\: we were running third. Now, this shouldn\’t seem like a problem. I should have just gotten out of the pits, put the hammer down and held our position. But it wasn\’t that simple. You see, FIM rules (unlike FIA ones) don\’t recognise crossing the start-finish line in the pit lane as a completed lap. So when Alameen swapped bikes with me, we were one lap down compared to everyone else. And that one lap cost us two positions. We finally finished the race in fifth. Had we used a two-stop strategy with 20-20-20 minute stints, we would\’ve been on the podium. Well, you learn something new every day.
I was pretty bummed that one decision cost us the weekend. I could have easily not sent word to the pits and let Alameen ride out the full 20 minutes. I had(over)used my brains and bungled things up. At least, I told myself, we were running in the top three if it hadn\’t been for this and that it wasn\’t our skills that let us down. But that empty trophy cabinet at home, and my friends, don\’t let me forget.