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MECO Festival of Speed 2010

28th Feb 2010 8:00 am

Endurance racing places a tough set of demands on both the driver and the machine.

Endurance racing is a motorsport phenomenon across the world. Europe has its gruelling 24-hour battles hosted at Le Mans, Nurburgring and Spa. Yanks have the historic 24-hour of Daytona and the Sebring 12-hour, while Japan hosts the Tokachi 24-hour as a part of the Super Taikyu series. This genre of racing places a tough set of demands on both the driver and the machine. The engine has to survive at wide open throttle (WOT) for long stretches without losing power despite high operating temperatures. Brakes and tyres need to endure the run too, and cannot be overused. And above all this is the driver’s approach – going all-out will lead to physical and mental exhaustion setting in early, clearly not a desirable thing when stints behind the wheel are counted in hours. In an attempt to introduce this concept in full-fledged racing format, Meco Motorsport, run by Akbar Ebrahim, conducted the endurance meet at Kari Motor Speedway, Coimbatore, with races in three disciplines – bikes, cars and karts. Bikes in 130cc and 165cc Group D classification ran concurrently for 90 minutes. This was not an easy task since only one rider per bike was allowed, with a compulsory fuelling pitstop. The cars included Super Saloons, apart from the Group N 1400 and Race Star Cup cars, running for three hours. Two drivers were allowed per car, with each driving for not more than 45 minutes per stint to avoid fatigue incidents, along with a mandatory tyre-change pitstop. The karting endurance was spread over two hours with two drivers per kart, each driving for a maximum of 20 minutes only. There was a lot of initial speculation over Narain Karthikeyan teaming up with Armaan Ebrahim. However, it was Ashwin Sundar who finally partnered Armaan for the race. In qualifying, it was T K Vishwanath of TVS Racing aboard a RTR 160 who clinched pole position ahead of Sarath Kumar of Ten10 Racing and veteran rider Sriskandarajah, both riding Yamaha R15s. In cars, it was Coimbatore duo C Rajaram and S Sivakumar who emerged on pole with a blistering 1:16:914 posted by Rajaram. Timing in this ball-park is mid-pack race pace during the national championship rounds at KMS, which left everyone wondering if the car would survive the punishing three hours on race day. In karts, duo Samyak and Parth, just a whisker ahead of Armaan and Ashwin, took pole, while Nikhil and team-mate Rajbharath stood third on the grid. The motorcycle race was the opening event of the race day. As the lights went out, it was Sarath Kumar who shot into lead, negating pole sitter Vishwanath’s advantage. The R15s seemed to have an advantage over RTRs in Group D spec; the six-speed gearbox, better aerodynamics and top-end punch came in handy on the 900 metres-long straight at KMS. Gradually two distinct packs formed, Sarath, Sriskandarajah and Sumit Lucas on R15s in the forefront, and the TVS trio of Vishwanath, Harry and Karthik bunched together some distance away. After being in the lead past the 30-minute mark, Sarath suffered an off on C1 and lost over 15 seconds in the process. However, he was able to gain some time thanks to a well-timed pitstop strategy. Team TVS was also back in the reckoning, slowly making its way into the pack as some riders turned down the pace. Sarath meanwhile slowly started making his way up the pack and slotted himself in lead, opening up an eight-second gap by the chequered flag, with Sriskandarajah and Vishwanath taking second and third place respectively. Later, a 30- second penalty was slapped on Sriskandarajah by stewards for ‘weaving dangerously’ at the finish line. This worked to Harry Sylvester’s advantage – he got promoted to third. Next up were the saloons. C Rajaram’s driving in the first stint helped him capitalise his pole position and distance himself from D Vidhyaprakash and K E Kumar. However, trouble was close – Rajaram’s Zen left a trail of smoke in its wake, a sign of the engine consuming oil. This caught up during the pitstop, where additional time was wasted in topping up the oil. B Vijaykumar and D Vidhyaprakash took over the lead from here, thanks to a perfect pitstop which saw pneumatic wheel guns and a gravity-feed fuel rig in action. Despite their car being down on overall pace, their pitstop strategy proved good enough for them to stay ahead of Rajaram and Sivakumar, who had unavoidable and time-consuming oil top-ups to deal with at each pitstop, resultantly finishing six seconds behind the leading duo despite posting quicker lap times and best lap of the race. This is a perfect example of how endurance racing differs from sprint – raw pace just isn’t enough to emerge on top here. The Rotax Max Kart Endurance, shortened to 60 minutes due to a couple of skirmishes and red flags, was won by duo Nikhil and Rajbharath with Tarun and Surya finishing second, while Vishnu Prasad and Chittesh Mandody finished a distant third.

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