Today it’s the complete package. But the handling of a car is very, very important too.
The second most important person in India, after the Prime Minister, walks in like he invented the word ‘swagger’. Looking seriously cool in his 1980s-spec quattro jacket, he’s at the Buddh circuit to take delivery of his new Q7. On hand to make the delivery is Audi India boss Rahil Ansari, no less. Keys collected, smiles and thumbs up pumped
for the camera, captain Kohli disappears briefly.
He’s scheduled to come and have a chat with us next, but before he returns, come his minders. I’m quickly surrounded. ‘No questions about cricket,” says one straight up. “How about football?” I ask. “And none about Anushka,” says another from over my shoulder, both looking dead serious. A sense of humour seems to be in short supply here.
Love for cars
India’s captain, however, seems quite chatty and relaxed when we sit down to talk cars. He looks genuinely pleased with his new Q7, and in a good mood. So when I ask about his enthusiasm for cars and when it started, pat comes the reply: “It actually developed over the years.” Cricket is his obsession and passion, but Kohli says his interest in cars grew as he came more in contact with them. “The sound, the way the cars look, they obviously attract you, and then (if you are inclined), it eventually ends up becoming an addiction. That’s how it started for me.” We chat a bit more about his early influences, and pretty soon, it’s evident, this guy really does have a passion and love for cars.
But does he ever polish his cars or clean them like Sachin does? His reply is a bit hesitant, “Well, I’m not that connected to my cars yet. He is on a different level in terms of his cars, but I certainly enjoy driving.”
I’m curious, when and where does he enjoy his cars the most? I expect a bit of a guarded answer, but Virat is wonderfully honest: “Well, I like to go for longish drives. I moved to Gurgaon a while back so I have access to the highway and like going for long drives, especially at night, when it’s a bit quieter. This is better than just driving around the city. I usually go with my brother; we live together, so he is my companion on long drives.”
“What of really long drives – to Rajasthan or Ladakh?” I ask. “I haven’t done that myself. I’ve obviously experienced that with my family. You know, our usual holidays used to be at the hills, so we would have those kinds of road trips. I haven’t done that so far, but I would love to someday.”
Since Virat has wound back the clock, I do too, and ask him about his first car. He seems a bit lost at first (I guess he’s trying to remember the first car he bought with his own money). “Oh, my first car was, jeez, it’s been so long... the (Tata) Safari. I got my first one after the India Under-19 tour. I managed to save some money and buy myself a big car because I wanted all my cricket stuff to fit in. And I’m very fond of music, so I also got this really ‘big’ music system set-up inside the boot, leaving enough space for my kit, of course. I totally wanted to pump it up because I have always loved my music. But no performance enhancements, because those
cars don’t necessarily take well to tuning.”
What Virat wants
His first car’s a Safari; sounds like he loves his SUVs. That certainly explains the genuine delight in taking delivery of his Q7. I ask about his current garage and his favourites, and unsurprisingly, SUVs are it. “I am a big fan of sitting in an SUV. So the Q7 is something I would prefer to sit back in. But I also have an A8 W12 (500hp), which I was given a couple of years ago. It is a beast, so I love driving that one myself. Plus, you know, my R8 (yeah, he’s got that too) is great for short drives.”
So what does Virat Kohli look for in a car? “Today it is the complete package. Over the years it has changed completely. Today it is comfort, performance, safety and, of course, handling of the car, that are very, very important.” Neat and tidy handling. Agility, compactness, being on top of things, control; it’s no surprise really, it’s what batting is all about too.
Does he think there’s a connection? “Yeah, definitely, I mean all of us love driving cars. I think sport and driving both can give you a similar kind of rush; like the thrill you get as a sportsman when you are out on the field. So I think that’s one of the reasons why there is a connect.” And what about dressing room banter, does that often include cars? “We often end up discussing cars, especially when someone wants to buy one, he takes suggestions from 7-8 people; it’s fun discussing cars.”
Virat and Audi LMS cup driver, Aditya Patel, after a couple of hot laps. The smile says it all.
Now Virat is an aggressive cricketer and likes to dominate bowlers. I wonder: Is his driving style similar? “No, not at all, I am pretty safe behind the wheel, I am aware of what’s happening on the road and I follow rules. Yes, I like to enjoy myself, but always within the rules. Because, you know, a lot is at stake.” Virat admits that his mindset changed when he became a professional cricketer. The importance of his career weighs on his mind and he’s fully aware how that one small mistake can take away a few important months from his life. So driving on the track in India is what Virat enjoys best.
He does enjoy driving on the track with Audi LMS Cup driver Aditya Patel. But he admits his pace is nowhere near Audi’s pro. “He is way too fast and way too skilled. When I drive, he doesn’t even react, but when he drives, I am literally holding onto things. So he is a few levels above, and I would like to leave it at that”.
Would he like to race himself? “I think I am a pretty good driver, but I don’t know how good I’d be in a race. When you are driving on a track alone, it’s pretty easy. But in a racing environment things can get a bit messy. So I am not sure whether I am there yet, but I can say I have potential (smiles).”
Before we had the chat, I’d assumed Virat was a casual enthusiast. But it’s nothing of the sort. Cricket is clearly his passion, and his life, but this guy also totally loves his cars. A double thumbs up Captain Fantastic; here’s to a lot more 0-100s in under 50 balls.
Virat Kohli in his new Q7 with Audi India head, Rahil Ansari