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Inside the helmet: TVS Young Media Race 3

24th Nov 2019 5:00 am

Three weekends of racing teach us that not all have the mental make-up to be a motorcycle racer.

This is my third and final report of the TVS Young Media Racer Programme 3.0. I finished in 6th place in Race 3, and at a spot that doesn’t really matter in the championship. I would be lying if said I wasn’t slightly dejected; it is human nature to be competitive and coming home with yet another participation certificate was disheartening.

What bothered me more, however, was that I was slower this time around at the Madras Motor Race Track than I was in Race 2. My fastest lap in Race 3 was 2:26, while it was 2:25 in Race 2 – and I think I may know why. I simply couldn’t get my head into the zone it needed to be.

It’s unbelievable what was going through my head during all three races. I was thinking of absolutely unrelated and random things out on the track. As vague as this sounds, when I was at full throttle on the back straight mid-way through my race, I was thinking about what my dogs must be up to back home. When I reached C8, I noticed the newly built complex really close to track and thought, “Ah! The view of the track from up there must be exceptional.” The very next thought, of course, was a screaming self-corrective one to focus on the brake marker that was approaching dangerously fast, but a few seconds later, my mind wandered again. When I reached the main straight, I saw someone I didn’t recognise cheering me on from the pits, and that distracted me as well. “Who was that person? Is that what it feels like to have a fan?” And these are just some of the thoughts I had.

However, it’s not just all random thoughts that flooded my mind, a plethora of emotions did too. I was nervous and intimidated before the lights went off, but excited and thrilled as soon as they did. Riding aggressively requires courage, and braking late into corners meant I had to trust the bike and all that I have been taught to believe about the tyres’ ability to grip. I could only carry higher corner speeds when I started having faith in the tyres; unfortunately, this takes more time than I can afford in a race.

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My entire season was spent in the middle of the pack, and keeping my mind focused was harder than I ever imagined.

Fresh emotions showed up in the form of anger and frustration each time I was overtaken. There was also a moment of confusion when a (significantly heavier) rider passed me on the straight. How was this happening? Seeing someone crash is disappointing and it also brings the fear that you could be next. Then there were the near-addictive positive feelings, like the pleasure that comes with overtaking someone after a long chase. More rewarding, however, is retaliation – passing someone who has just passed you. And crossing the chequered flag, despite not being at the front of the pack, brought a feeling of fulfillment and relief.

Across the three race weekends, it was hard not to be overwhelmed with all that going on inside my helmet. But that was just one section of the problems I was facing. I am also way too unfit to be a racer. While I may look like I am cut out for the track with my skinny frame, the truth is quite far from it. Just walking around in a heavy and restrictive leather race suit in the pits wore me out well before it was time to hop on to my motorcycle. And despite having loads of water and glucose drinks, my muscles began cramping up within two laps; it was clear that my hips, thighs, and ankles weren’t accustomed to the stress I was putting them through. And I’m sure that all the clenching that resulted from my melting pot of emotions certainly made things worse. However, this is an issue that some discipline and hard work at the gym can fix. What isn’t so easy to ‘fix’ is what I spoke of earlier – the stuff that goes on inside the helmet.

I am pretty sure even the best racers in the world can’t be focused on the prize all the time and I would kill to know what Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez have running in their heads while they’re doing their thing. For now, I know this – racing is only for those with the right mental constitution. I know that’s not who I am, but I’m elated that I had such an amazing opportunity to find out. Ultimately, I’m not writing this to scare you off, but instead to motivate you to go and find out for yourself!

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Participation certificates are never as good as the real deal, but this one will be treasured.
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