Motorsports, especially motorcycle track racing, is in a very nascent stage in the country. The southern side of India has a comparatively more focused track racing culture and that's majorly because of accessible tracks which do not cost a bomb. Motorcycle racing in the country still has a long way to go especially when you see that India has hosted not a single MotoGP event till date, albeit, the BIC is far more than ready for such races.
But the future doesn't looks so gloomy, the racing culture in India is certainly in a transitional phase especially due to the efforts of mainstream automakers such as Suzuki. Speaking of which, Suzuki Motorcycle India started with the Gixxer Cup back in 2015, and till date it has churned out a number of young talents who figured out their purpose early in life. For the 2019 season, I was fortunate enough to have received an invite to participate and experience the same event which had a special slot for the folks of the media fraternity. With a decent track experience under my belt, but none racing, I simply couldn't miss out on the opportunity to go head-on with my fellow community riders. Some of which have more than a decade of track experience. Also, an opportunity to ride the built-for-the-track Suzuki Gixxer SF 250 was another reward I couldn't afford to miss.
Unlike regular races, an endurance event demands presence of two racers which take turns to complete the event. For our specific race, there were 26 journalists and hence 13 teams. The partners and the bikes were selected on a random basis. On the first day, a thorough briefing was done about the track 'Kari Motorspeed Way' and the simple track ethics which we needed to keep in mind to ensure the overall safety. And then finally came the time I was eagerly waiting for.
The first session was get-to-know the track and qualifying day. Both the riders were given equal time to get acquainted with the track conditions and feel comfortable on the bike. This was my first time trying my hands on a race-prepped motorcycle which took me by surprise (in a good way) even though I ride a much bigger bike on a daily basis. Speaking of which, the company claimed that it managed to save around 18-20 kg off the stock bike by simply removing some of the components like the headlamp, rear-view mirrors, indicators, pillion footpegs and more. Also, the stock exhaust was replaced with a free-flow aftermarket racing exhaust which itself is capable of reducing around 4-5 kgs off the stock bike and at the same time adding similar digit horses, boosting the power-to-weight. Furthermore, the motorcycle had 1 degree sharper rake and higher set footpegs to devour the sharpest corners around Kari. Also, not to be missed were the Metzeler M7 tyres which were down to serious business. All this made the Gixxer SF 250 as lethal as a pocket knife, small but deadly. And in track perspective, the most fierce 250 I was about to ride.
Getting back to the action hour, my teammate went first to get the tyres and engine heated up. We were both given about 10 odd minutes each to set our best racing times and accordingly on the average time our team was set to be positioned the next day. By the time he arrived, the tyres were already heated up and were sticking to the surface like a leech. Only 2 minutes after being on the track and I already felt the aggression and response from the 250 cc single which was let loose to do what it does the best, deliver power-on-demand. The rev-range counter along with the gear shift indicator was lighting up like a Christmas tree, and the motorcycle felt it was home on the track.
The simple rule to go fast around a race circuit is to brake as late as possible, lean hard and take the right lines around the corners. Leaning hard, and braking late wasn't an issue but all I had to do was learn the right lines since it was my maiden attempt at Kari. 3 laps in and I was already feeling pretty confident on the machine, tailing one of the very experienced riders, turn by turn, learning the chicanes. By the time I was done, I was already feeling in sync with the machine and had got an idea of what Kari had to offer. Kari is definitely a much technical track to ride on. The C1 and C2 after the main straight are both right-handers. They require perfect lines if you are doing the actual racing speeds. Most of the remaining corners require you to just go wide and square-off, and then all you have to do is point and shoot, and repeat until you hit the main-straight again. I was personally enjoying the track very much on the first day and managed to clock the 7th fastest timing among the batch of 26 riders.
Enter day two, the race day. We were given a total of 40 minutes of race time, and each rider was supposed to do at least 14 minutes on the track, so that the contribution of the slower rider remains significant. In my case, I was close to 7 seconds faster than my partner, so we agreed upon what was obvious to remain competitive in the race. I had to do close to 25 minutes on the track, while my partner was supposed to start the race and ride the initial 15 minutes.
The bikes were lined up in the same manner as any endurance race, and we had a strong start. After a few minutes of waiting in the pit and desperate to hop on the motorcycle, my excitement was taking over me, and I was already sweating till my shoes even before I was on the track. I realized that it was close to 12 minutes and other teams have already started switching riders, and then after a minute or so even I called for my partner, which turned out to be a mistake.
As soon as I was on the track, the first two laps went off trying to get back in the groove and remind myself what I had memorized about each and every corner on the track. And then it was all going as I had planned for the day and I was able to overtake a couple of fast riders too, but I was called off to the pit lane back again, clueless about what was going on.
I found out that my partner had still a minute left for the track or else we would have been disqualified since he was mistakenly called off by me at about 13 minutes or so. This little miscalculation costed us our competitive edge in the race as we did one extra switch, and then I decided not to call him back to the pits as it would have been one more additional switch to put me back in the race. So the second day went exactly opposite to the plan, but we came back with a sea of track and time management learnings. Also, it was a pleasure to ride along some of the fastest motorcyclists in the media fraternity who live just for the days like these.