Racing for the first time taught me that I still has a lot to learn when it comes to going quicker on a motorcycle.
Humans are one of the smartest creatures on this planet. We’re creative, rational, self-aware, and have an incredible ability to learn things rather quickly – often, just by watching. Racing, however, is not something that can be grasped so quickly, even if you have guidance from the best. To be good at it, or even decent, you need to have multiple skill sets, both physical and mental, which is why the best began training at an impressionable age of four!
So what happens when a 26-year-old with absolutely no experience gives it a go? Embarrassing things, of course! However, before I get to ridiculing myself, let me set the scene. The skies were clear and the winds were strong at my first race weekend of the year. And there I was stretching my toneless muscles in the pits at the Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore with fit professionals who were competing at the MRF Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship. These racers stood there after gruelling battles with hundreds of rivals from all over the country, whereas I made it to the track to compete in TVS’ special Young Media Racer Championship that was designed especially for journalists.
Like the proper racing categories, our media class too had practice, qualifying and a race scheduled for the weekend. Our first outing on the track was to get us acclimatised to the track and our race-spec Apache RTR 200. The RTR 200 is no powerhouse, but it’s quick to change direction and is punchy enough to keep the adrenaline high. This bike has been in the same state of tune for the past few seasons, but this year, it runs new race-spec tyres made by TVS that were appreciated by the lot of us.
Looking back at the pictures, I regret not crouching lower still and getting as aerodynamic as possible.
My weekend started on a happy note and practice went just as I would have liked it to – everyone gave each other room and I even managed to set the fifth-fastest time of 1min 32sec. Now while that might sound impressive, it really wasn’t, because even the slowest racers in the professional category were 7sec faster on the same bikes.
With that done, we were closing in on qualifying, and this when the tension began rising. Suddenly, the chatter in the pit lane slowed down to a trickle and I’d be lying if I said the nerves didn’t affect me. While the little friendly trash talk in the pits was fun, I decided to stay silent and let my actions on the track do the talking. Funnily enough, things turned out very differently when I had a low-side crash on the infamous ‘mickey-mouse’ right-hander. I did manage to quickly get back on the bike, but every bit of confidence was shaken from my being; how the professionals manage to continue riding like nothing ever happened is beyond me. Nonetheless, I managed to go around the track in 1min 30sec in the lap before my crash and this put me in 7th place.
Fast-forward to the next day and the tensions were high. Conversations were kept to a minimum and everyone ate light breakfasts as ‘less weight equals more speed.’ But I guess it was too late for that and some of us even weighed double than the others; talk about novice racing! Ours was the first race of the day and soon after breakfast, I found myself lining up on the grid. The combined effect of all the timing boards, the warm-up lap and even the grid girls, all felt like I was at a serious race – the sort you’d normally watch on TV. By this point, my nerves were off the charts.
My heart raced faster than ever before that day!
But then the lights went off and as I quickly rolled open the throttle, all that anxiety was history. Rapidly closing in on the first corner, the first of the many distinctions between a novice (me) and professional became clear to me. We approached the turn as a thickly packed group and I chickened out. To my brain, flying into a corner with 11 other riders together was begging for a beating, whereas a racer would use this opportunity to pass as many riders as he could, especially on a narrow track like Kari. And that brings me to my second amateur trait – not being able to overtake! My poor start put me in 10th place and I stayed there throughout because I just couldn’t figure out how to pass the two riders in front of me, despite the fact that I knew I was faster. What I did was stubbornly focus on the racing line and braking zones instead of looking for opportunities to hunt down riders in front of me. And by the time I thought I would finally make my first move, the chequered flag was waved.
Yes, finishing 10th was disappointing, especially after securing 5th in practice and 7th in qualifying, but racing did teach me quite a bit – or rather show me what I didn’t know I was lacking. It may be a little too late to become a pro at racing, but what I learned here has been priceless and I’m already scheming up my strategy for round 2 in Chennai next month!