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Almost exactly a year ago, I found myself taking part in the Young Media Racer Programme by TVS Racing, learning a lot about the dos and don’ts of tarmac racing. While I didn’t turn out to be the racing prodigy that I had envisioned, I did walk away from it with the basic formulas of speed tucked safely in my back pocket. Formulas to be practised and used in different permutations and combinations to ensure that I become a better (and more importantly, safer) rider on the whole. I still cannot thank the whole team at TVS enough for making it all possible.

Vimal Sumbly with a few words of encouragement

Fast forward to April 2024, and TVS was conducting the final round of the Apache Racing Experience GP for its customers at the Madras International Circuit. Over 1000 customers got to experience the racetrack during the entire season, out of which the top 48 riders from 20 Indian cities advanced to the final. The championship races were held in four categories, namely 160cc, 180cc, 200cc, and 310cc, with an additional category for us media folk in the finale. No prizes for guessing which one I was looking forward to the most.

The blistering heat in Chennai seemed to be taunting us as we rolled up to the track as if daring us to get into our leather suits and see if we survived the heat. We persisted, aided by an endless supply of chilled water and glucose. Once we hit the track, all sense of exhaustion from the heat vanished, and we were only concerned with braking points, apexes, lean angles, and most of all, keeping the throttle pinned. Practice started off slow and steady for me as I took in the track in its entirety — every undulation and every line entering and exiting a corner. Along with that, I gauged the motorcycle that had been allotted to me, at which point of the rev band was the peak power output, which gear I should use for which corner, how sharp the braking was, and so on.

There’s a palpable tension in the first lineup

Having made my peace with both the machine and the track, I then had to focus on reducing my personal margin of error with every consecutive lap. This took whatever remained of the practice session and most of the qualifying. I managed to shave off just about three to four seconds in every lap and clinch third place on the starting grid. Not bad, I thought to myself. We had two rounds of racing, with four laps each, and the pressure was building. On the formation lap for the first round, I had a wonderful launch, resulting in quite a confidence boost as we lined up on the grid for the actual race start.

The countdown started. Thirty seconds. I could feel my heart pounding about four inches higher than where it was supposed to be, up in my throat, slowly approaching a crescendo. Fifteen seconds. Sweat beaded at my brows before rolling down into my eyes, causing a sharp sting as the salty liquid made contact. I didn’t have time to wince. Five seconds. The motorcycle was slotted into first gear as the revs were maintained at 5000 rpm. A flash of green, and I dumped the clutch. Nothing. I saw motorcycles go past me on both sides. I didn’t have the time to figure out what had happened, but I pulled the clutch in again and dumped it once more; this time the motorcycle pulled away.

I had fallen back into eighth place, but I was determined to claw my way back up the order, and four laps were all I had. Slowly but steadily, I managed to make a few strategic moves and overtake two riders in front of me. Round one ended, and I was in P6, not ideal, but it wasn’t the back of the pack. Round two went much better as I managed to pick off two more riders, putting me in P4 by the second lap. No sooner had I caught up to the riders in P3 and P2, they had made contact and taken each other out. Witnessing the crash in front of me, I rolled off the throttle for a brief moment before jolting out of it and focusing on my race. This meant that I was now in P2, shortly after which I crossed the finish line and secured my podium.

That right there is the consequence of speed

Now, looking back at how far I had come from when I first set foot in the training academy to where I was standing on the podium, the journey sure had come full circle. I am full of gratitude that my job allows me to do this for a living, and I sure as heck can’t wait till the next time I get back on the race track. This may sound cheesy, but speed is now a dear friend that I can’t wait to keep bumping into on the track — farewell for now, and godspeed.