Race Life

Ritesh Patil
A rookie’s first taste of racing in a motorcycle championship!

I recently completed one year at TURBOCHARGED and what a year it has been! I joined as an intern who was more into cars than motorcycles, thinking I would be reviewing the former as a correspondent, but Ed, Ben (both avid motorcyclists) and life had other plans. They introduced me to the world of motorcycling and in a year I have had the opportunity to ride and review numerous motorcycles including the tasty Aprilia RS 457 on the race track! One thing that I never thought I would be doing in my life, let alone my first year as an automotive journalist, was racing in a motorcycle championship!

Earlier this year I was selected by the seniors to represent TURBOCHARGED at this year’s TVS Young Media Racer Program (YMRP). I reached the Madras International Circuit (MIC), Chennai for the training and selection round with butterflies in my stomach. After a long day of learning, unlearning old wrong habits, crashing and practising to ride on a track, I exited the pit lane with a race-spec Apache RTR 200 for the last ten minutes of qualifying. And I, along with 15 others, qualified for the three-round championship! You can read more about this and the first round of the championship in our May and July issues.

For the second round, we were back in Chennai in August. The weekend brought us face to face with how dangerous motorsport can be when a 13 year old talented young racer, Shreyas Hareesh, lost his life in a racing incident. The silence in the pit lane, which is otherwise buzzing with various noises, still haunts me to this day. All races for the weekend were cancelled and we returned home. I have had close calls and even crashed on the track before, but I was never scared to ride again. 

Things felt different this time, though. The next few months were spent trying to get back my confidence in riding. That’s when I noticed how the things I had learnt about vision, acceleration and braking on the race track came in handy on the public roads. On the race track, the key is to look as much further as possible to prepare beforehand for the next corner. On the public roads, this skill comes in handy to anticipate any danger that might be lurking on the road ahead. Track riding has helped me learn the importance of gripping the motorcycle with the knees and thighs for better control, and this proves to be useful on the roads as well.

Soon, the invites for the last two rounds came in and we were back at MIC. This also happened to be the last race weekend of the MRF MMSC Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship (INMRC). Saturday we had the practice and qualifying session and two races on Sunday, to make up for the lost race. During practice, I headed out with one goal in mind — to get comfortable with riding on the track once more. I could feel I was going slow, and that was reflected in my timings. My timings got better in the qualifying session but unfortunately they were not good enough to qualify for the race as I qualified at the second to last position. This being the media race for us to get a first hand experience of how motorsport feels like, the race control allowed me and two other riders who didn’t qualify to participate in the race for three laps. It is important to note that this doesn’t happen in professional racing.

This time around, TVS had made some changes to the race motorcycle. The most evident ones were the new lighter alloys finished in gold which were striking to look at. This meant the motorcycle felt more agile and quick to turn in as well. The Apache RTRs had turned out to be a fantastic tool for beginners to learn the ropes of racing and instrumental in me getting better at riding. 

The next morning, the important thing for me was to show up at the race track and enjoy whatever racing time I had and not let the fear of falling get the better of me. With two riders having backed out due to health reasons, eleven of us lined up on the starting grid. Fortunately, the race start I had practised on some of our long- termers (secretly, of course) came in handy, and I got a good start, making up a couple of places in the opening lap. Unfortunately, the faster riders caught up eventually, and after some close battles, I was back where I started. Honestly, I had imagined myself suddenly becoming a pro in the race and setting some quick lap times, but life isn’t some movie, is it? The same story continued in the second race as well.

Upfront, there were some really close battles between the experienced riders, though. The fight between top two contenders for the championship, Alsian Thomas from Bike India and Joel Raju from Motorbeam, continued right until the chequered flag, with the former pulling off a brave overtake from the inside in the final corner to take the lead and win the championship. Ananya Awasthi from Powerdrift took third place in the overall championship standings.

The championship concluded in a rather anticlimactic way for me. I would have hoped to be a part of more racing battles, but for a novice like myself, it is important to first get my basics right, the skill will only develop with years of practice. TVS Young Media Racer Program provided me with a great platform for the same. On top of that, getting to experience the thrill of riding on a race track and battling for positions, just like the professionals, at such an early stage of my career is something I’ll always be grateful for. 

Today, I feel a lot more confident riding, and while the fear of falling lingers at the back of my head, I am back to pushing myself bit by bit. I also have a new found respect for the professional racers, who dedicate themselves to the sport, despite their life being on the line. Winning or losing is part of the game, but the most important thing is to build a strong foundation, maintain discipline and show up, no matter what. That’s my learning from this racing season and the motto I wish to live by in the future.

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