My victory at the Colombo Night Races (VW Polo Cup)
I made my International debut last week at the Colombo Night Races and came back with a Victory! clap:
This was the inaugural year of the Colombo Night Races and it was probably the biggest Motorsport Festival in the Indian sub-continent.
Get this: 152 Cars, 9 Categories, 2 nights full of racing in the heart of Colombo !!! Pure Awesomeness.
The Cars included GT3 and GT4 supercars, VW Polo R Cup, Formula Fords, Formula LGB Swifts, Honda 1600s, Nissan Marchs, etc. etc. There were also bikes.
Sri Lanka is a car crazy nation, they love their cars and they love racing them. So, they have decided that they will have their own mini Macau GP on their own land. For 2 nights a year, Colombo will come to a stand-still while cars from all over the world scream on their streets and fill the air with the growl of engines.
I landed in Colombo expecting a fun weekend but then I was taken aback with the sheer scale of the event. The races were to be held from 7pm to almost 3am on closed streets. Checked into my hotel in whose parking lot would be the pits for the international cars. There was a sense of excitement in the air. There was a feeling that something big is about to happen. It was a very different feeling from what we get at racing weekend here in India. It was probably because I was not worried about how my pace would be, where I would finish, what would happen to my Championship aspirations, etc. But another factor was the sheer enthusiasm around me, there were officials making last minute preparations, sandbags being put around the track, temporary grand-stands being erected, a lot of frantic activity around.
Anyways, met with my team (VW guys) and checkout out some sights around the hotel. It was time for the driver's briefing then. We were given the low down on the Sri Lankan way of racing. Basically, they don't have a penalty system, any mis-adventure and one is directly black flagged. I kind of liked it.
Then we headed for a quick track walk. It was a 2.2 km circuit. They layout was challenging, with some wide areas and some really narrow areas. The track had one pretty high speed corner followed by a jump, which in-turn was followed by a pretty tight corner. Exciting, it should be, so I thought.
It was already late in the night but could not afford to sleep. We had to change our sleeping cycle or else we'd be caught napping at the start-line. Our schedule for the next 2 days would be such:
06pm - Wake up and have breakfast
12pm - Lunch
07am - Dinner
08am - Sleep
Finally slept at around 4am of Friday. We were asked to report at 6.45pm on Friday for our practice session.
Slept through the day and reported, all-geared up and all at 6.45pm sharp. (Polo Cup has strict rules when it comes to adhering to the given schedule). But this was Sri Lanka, and it was their first year of organizing this event. Even the roads were not closed when we reported. So, we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, at around 9pm we were told that there was still time and we could go for a track walk if we so desired. All of us headed onto the track now. It had changed drastically from a day ago and now it looked much better prepared.
Alas, at 12.30am, we finally got to drive for our practice session. It was a 20 minute session. The initial laps were spent in finding the right line, the braking references, etc. I was worried about how I would cope up to a new track and that too at night. But once in the car, nothing really mattered. I got into the groove pretty quickly and was getting more comfortable with the track with each passing lap. Tried out different lines and also different gears. Finally I found a rhythm that felt pretty quick and satisfactory. The session ended quickly and I thought I would be quick enough for a mid-pack lap time.
The grid consisted of some pretty big names. Aditya Patel, a Scirocco Cup driver and now in the i1 Super Series was also driving. Raj Viruthan, the current Super Saloon Champion was there. Also, Raahil Noorani, Mihir Dharkar, Avdumber Hede, all front-runners in the Polo R Cup 2011 reason, were there.
After the practice, when all drivers compared their notes and lap times, I was in for a pleasant surprise. I was the fastest with a time of 1.13.1xx. But, the other guys were not far behind. Aditya had done a 1.13.2xx and Avdumber was third with a time of 1.13.3xx. After looking at our data, I found out some areas where I could improve my time, but so did the other drivers.
It was time for qualifying now. We did not know when it would start, so we waited. It was a long wait though. Finally, the session started at almost 6.30am. I found my rhythm quickly. I made it a point to not look at my lap times on the in-car display, as it could make me nervous. My sole aim was to not make any mistakes and push as much as possible.
At the end of the session, I finally looked at the display and it showed a time of 1.11.890, wow!! I said to myself. That was a really quick time. On speaking with the other drivers, I found that I was quickest again, and this time with a comfortable margin. 2nd fastest again was Aditya, with a time of 1.12.6xx and 3rd was Mihir, with a time of 1.12.8xx.
I really couldn't believe it, I was elated and felt really really happy from within. All through my racing career, my ultimate target was to match Aditya's timing. He was the official Polo Cup test driver and he had the fastest times of anyone at the Coimbatore and Chennai circuits. So, I felt that I had finally achieved my aim, I not only matched his time but was also faster than him. But at the back of my mind, I knew that all these guys would be faster in the races and I could not afford to relax.
The official timing sheet was out soon after and I indeed do a 1.11 second lap. Unfortunately, there was some problem with Aditya's transponder and thus he had not recorded an official lap time, dropping him to the back of the grid. Thus, Mihir would be starting alongside me on the front row of the grid.
Colombo Night Races, Polo Cup - Flying Lap - Onboard - YouTube
Went off to sleep. I was thinking about the next night's race. Only one thought crossed my mind though. Mihir is a drag expert and he is well known for his blazing quick starts. On the other hand, my starts were just about average. Somehow, I had to get a good start and keep Mihir behind me at the first corner. That is all I was concerned about at that point of time. Next day, I spoke to Oshan Kothadia, another driver known for his quick starts and he gave me some crucial tips.
It was time for the race now. I was surprisingly relaxed, which is always a good thing. I was informed that there was a pole sitter's parade. I joined it and was made to sit in a kit car, a Cobra with a corvette sourced 6.3L V8 beast. I soaked in the atmosphere. It was a fun. The audience was huge and very enthusiastic.
Anyways, we got into our cars soon afterwards and made our way to the start line. Formation lap done. The 5 red lights then came on one-by-one. As soon as they went off, I popped the clutch and I was hoping I had a good start. Looked out of the left window, through the safety net, and Mihir was not there. That was a good sign. Checked my mirror, and there his car was, within the safety of my mirror. This was good, I went into the first corner leading the race. Within 2 laps, I had a sizable lead, as Mihir was busy defending from Romani D'Silva, a Sri Lankan driver who was in 3rd. Then, I had a scary moment, at the biggest braking zone on the circuit, my foot slipped off the brake pedal, I then had to stomp on the brakes and this sent me into a partial spin. Luckily, I hit nothing and I had a big enough gap behind me too. So, I continued still leading the race.
The next 7 laps were super fun. My lead was increasing lap by lap, within a few laps I could see no one in my mirrors but I continued pushing. Finally, the checkered flag was waved and I heaved a sigh of relief. I had won the race and I was delighted. The crowd was enthusiastic and was cheering. It was a very good feeling. Snaked my way to the pits and everyone was happy and were congratulating me.
But, the weekend was not yet over. There was one more race, and this one had a reverse grid for the first four places. That meant I would be starting from 4th position. We lined up at the start line, my aim was to get a podium in this race. That would make it a perfect weekend for me.
Unfortunately, my start was not all that good. I lost 2 positions and found myself in 6th position. Although I was quicker than the cars ahead of me, this being a street circuit, it was very difficult for me to overtake. For 2 laps, I was stuck in 6th position. Then, on lap 3, I sensed an opportunity and tried to go it, but it was not possible so I backed off. But, this had destroyed my line into the upcoming corner and I went in a bit too fast. My car experienced under steer and was veering towards the foam barrier at the exit of the corner. I had a light contact with the barrier, but, it being foam, rebounded and pushed my car into a spin right onto the racing line. The cars behind me could not avoid me and within no time, it turned into a 5 car pile-up. :Frustrati
Got out of the car dejected. But, atleast I was unharmed and so were all the other drivers. There was a sad mood around because almost half the grid had been taken out by this crash.
Was given a lift back to the pits in the safety car. It took a while before a regained my composure.
Colombo Night Races, Polo Cup Race 2 - Crash - Onboard - YouTube
The Red car in front is mine
There was no point in ruing about the lost opportunity, there were a lot of positives to take home from this weekend and also a trophy.
Enjoy the pictures
The Polo Cup Pits
Views of the track
Some Beauties in and around the track:
Things that were not planned: